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These are borzoi books, 
published in New York by Alfred A. Knopf 


Little Did I Know 





























il^A @ 


Recollections and Reflections 

Maurice Samuel 




L. C. catalog card number: 63-17832 


Copyright @ 1963 by Maurice Samuel. All rights 
reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in 
any form without permission in writing from the 
publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote 
brief passages in a review to be printed in a maga- 
zine or newspaper. Manufactured in the United 
States of America, and distributed by Random 
House, Inc. Published simultaneously in Toronto, 
Canada, by Random House of Canada, Limited. 


A portion of Chapter XVIII appeared under the 
title "The Maggid" in Midstream. 


Most of the following pages were written, in their 
original form, during the summer of 1 96 1 . I have added 
and changed much since then, but always in the spirit 
of the first draft, so that the additions and changes are a 
prolongation and clarification of a mood. This is the 
only artifice I have employed; everything here recorded 
is as faithful to fact as copious notes and a self-serving 
memory can make it. 

A small part of the material was published long ago; 
another part, more recently. In a few places I have 
dipped into my own books. For permission to re-use 
larger or smaller fragments of my articles I wish to thank 
the following periodicals: Commentary, The Congress 
Bi-Weekly, Harper's Magazine, The Jewish Frontier, 
Midstream, and The New Palestine. For permission to 
quote I am also indebted to Harper and Brothers, New 
York {Trial and Error, the Autobiography of Chaim 
Weizmann); Atheneum, New York (Chaim Weizmann, 
A Biography); Ryerson Press, Toronto (The Rocking 
Chair and Other Poems, by A. M. Klein); Reynal Sc 
Company, New York (Felix Frankfurter Reminisces). 
The material quoted from The World's Work was later 
used by the late Ambassador Morgenthau in his autobio- 
graphical All in a Lifetime. 

® Vll ^ 


Part I Descent to the Beginning 


My Virgilian Uncle 


Time Present, Place Here 


The Twig Is Bent 




The Clan 




The Fathers of the Clan 




Our Shtetl Roots 


Time Present, Place Here 







Part 2 Cities and Men 

XI. The Eruption 159 

XII. Chaim Weizmann I'jg 

XIII. The Scientist 202 

XIV. Founding Fathers 210 
XV. Of an Old Tragedy and a Bitter Farce 226 

XVI. Hieroselyma Est Perdita 254 

XVII. "Writer and Lecturer" 266 

XVIII. The Maggid 286 

Epilogue of High Moments 310 




Descent to the Beginning 

m 3 ® 


My Virgilian Uncle 



.mong the people who rise out of my past to claim 
first mention in this book, my uncle Berel is the most per- 
sistent. This would have surprised him. He played only a 
brief role in my life, and had no idea that it was of any im- 
portance. He must have supposed — if he ever thought 
about it at all — that when he was dead and gone I would 
call him to mind affectionately now and again, but less and 
less frequently, less and less clearly, as the years passed; and 
that by the time I reached his age he would be among the 
ghostliest of my memories. I, for my part, surely did not 
look so far ahead; but now I am much older than he was 
at the time of our intimacy, and I find myself thinking 
about him more and more frequently, and seeing him more 
and more clearly. It is, in fact, impossible to disallow his 

So there he is, Uncle Berel, my mother's brother, Berel 
Acker, the tailor, who does very little tailoring, making 
most of his living, such as it is, from repairing, cleaning, 
and pressing. I usually see him in profile, at his work 
table before the window facing north on grimy East Fif- 
teenth Street, between First and Second Avenues, while I 
sit at his right, and we carry on long conversations which 


on his side are punctuated by what are known as Bronx 
cheers. He is in the late forties; he has a squat figure, a 
round, brown, wrinkled face with Tartar cheekbones and 
overhanging mustaches. He chews an extinguished cigar 
stump, and his little brown eyes twinkle when he turns to 
make a point. The Bronx cheers are not derisive; they are 
modest, mechanical, and professional; he produces them by 
taking a sip of water from the glass on his left and, with a 
circular flourish of his bowed white head, spraying from 
between pursed lips the skirt or pants he is pressing by 
hand. He ought to have a pressing machine, but for various 
reasons he has never managed to save up the price; and 
among these reasons is an admitted disquiet of soul in the 
presence of a New World innovation which would sever 
another bond between him and the good old days in 
Rumania, where he was born and grew up. 

There is a constant tug of war between Uncle Berel and 
me. He wants to talk about things he thinks I know, and I 
want to hear him on things I know he knows. He would 
like me to clarify for him once and for all how they 
measure the circumference of the earth and the earth's 
distance from the sun; or how a microscope magnifies; or 
how one can reconcile the obvious uncertainty of man's 
life with the obvious solvency of insurance companies. I 
keep steering him toward the details of his occupation 
and his memories of Rumania. 

Uncle Berel is a mixture of shrewd realism and uncon- 
trollable sentimentality. He is a meditative man from two 
consecutive and contradictory causes. His wife (I barely saw 
her in America, she died soon after my arrival) was homi- 
cidally talkative and threw him back on himself; now he is 
a not disconsolate widower and much alone. He is a sharp 
observer and a close reasoner; but he also has fantasy. He 
hangs his customers on the rack in provocative combina- 



tions: Mr. Michelson the grocer next to Mrs. Tuchverder- 
ber the matchmaker, a priest's soutane next to a rabbinic 
kaftan. He would make a good novelist, though he did not 
get more than a cheder (elementary Hebrew school) educa- 
tion, has never made a formal improvement on it, and 
speaks only Yiddish and Rumanian. When I suggest in all 
seriousness that he could produce, if not a novel, then a 
new and homely Sartor Resartus, and explain that it is a 
sort of philosophy of clothes, he says: "Beh! A philosophy 
of shmattes, rags, maybe, if I were a writer like you." For I 
am already a writer, a fact attested by an impressive col- 
lection of rejection slips. 

"Very good. Uncle Berel! A philosophy of old clothes. 
There have been so many Jewish old clo' men; it's a tradi- 

"Maybe you're having a little joke with me," he answers. 
"And yet what I do here is no small matter. Here comes an 
old suit, a beggar, a scarecrow, fit for the garbage can. I 
take nothing in my hand, as you might say, just a spit of 
water and a hot iron. I neither add to the cloth nor sub- 
tract from it, I make a flipflop with the iron and hopla! 
there's your suit, a regular gentleman" — but he says 
"gentledendle," to indicate disesteem — "not to be recog- 
nized. A resurrection for the sleeper in the dust, as the 
siddur (prayerbook) says. And the things I learn about 
customers, even if I've never met them and somebody 
brings their clothes to me, the things I learn — oh, ho! 
Black coffee beans in the pants pockets — he chews them to 
cover his breath, because he drinks and he's afraid of his 
wife; cigarette butts in the vest pockets — a miserly soul; 
chewed toothpicks — nervousness, bad manners, and close- 
set teeth. And the stains! A world of stains, from the lapels 
to the pants cuffs; and what they sometimes tell you isn't 
fit to be spoken of. Has your writer friend — " 



"Carlyle— " 

"Has he anything to say about that?" 

"Not that I remember." 

He removes the cigar stump, sips water, and swoops 
down over the table like a benevolent hawk, reminding me 
of Dante's "Ha! Ha! Thou stoopest!" Emptied, he tries to 
switch the conversation; if not Carlyle, then something 
about actuarial tables; but my Yiddish is defective, I am 
relearning it after years of alienation; and I was never 
very good at mathematics. I push him back to his old 
clothes. It turns out that in his own way he feels actuarially 
and has formulated for himself a version of Emerson's Law 
of Compensation. 

He feels himself to be a sort of economic barometer, or, 
rather, a recorder of barometric readings. Mr. Michelson's 
grocery store is the barometer, and the mercury Uncle Berel 
watches is represented by Mr. Michelson's suits. When the 
operators, cutters, hat-makers, pressers, and salesgirls on 
the block are out of work or on part-time, their diet is low 
in lox and high in potatoes; then Mr. Michelson's takings 
are poor and his suits lose heart and acquire lustre in 
longer absences. When times are good and lox is again in 
the ascendant, Mr. Michelson's suits pick up joie de vivre 
and come in as often as every other Thursday. But there is 
more to it than that. 

"I tell you," says Uncle Berel, "it is a marvelous world. I 
stand here and reckon it out. When people are out of work 
they don't have their clothes mended and pressed very 
often, and therefore I too earn less, which is only right. 
Good! But you might think I am in danger of starving to 
death. Not at all! For if people have no jobs they can't 
buy new clothes; so the suits and skirts grow older and 
older, and it has been cleverly arranged that the older they 
get the more often they need mending and pressing. The 
mind of man can't look through the deepness of it all." 


On certain subjects Uncle Berel and I are so hopelessly 
divided that we have dropped them by tacit consent. I am a 
newly converted — self-converted — Zionist. I believe that 
some day, all going reasonably well, we shall have a Jewish 
homeland in Palestine. It depends largely on us. Uncle 
Berel is immovably skeptical. The division, to mix a 
metaphor, is an impasse. "Yes, we will." "No, we won't." 
"Why won't we?" "Beh! For one thing, they won't let us." 
Who are "they"? Uncle Berel makes an impatient gesture 
with the flatiron, giving it a little rapid clockwise and 
counter-clockwise flip before he plumps it down; that is all 
he can do, for though his emotions are strong the flatiron 
is heavy. "Everybody!" But his skepticism is not hostile. 
When the issue was first raised between us he admitted that 
he too had once dreamed dreams, but they had faded away, 
or rather had been extinguished suddenly. 

"Once upon a time, years and years ago, when Theo- 
dore Herzl" — he pronounced it "Todder" — "was alive, 
I thought for a moment, yes, maybe it will happen. There 
is a man who is received by kings and sultans. That must 
have meant something. They knew him for what he was. 
A Prince. It was a sudden light, and it went out. That's the 
kind of luck we have. Now it's farfallen, done for, not 
hashert, not destined. Today — tremendous nations locked 
in a life-and-death struggle" — it was the winter of 1914- 
1915 — "where do we Yiddalach come in? I respect you, 
you've been to college, but on this matter, if you'll pardon 
me . . . Who's going to lead us now?" 

I too revered the name of Herzl, though I knew little, 
at that time, about the personality — royal indeed — fusion 
of sophisticated Viennese journalist. Messianic prophet, 
and master organizer — who within a decade of his death 
had become folklore. But I gave Uncle Berel names, which 
he shrugged off. "Do you call that a Herzl?" The greatest 
among the Zionist leaders who were then arising I did not 


mention, though I had met him in person. My ignorance 
of the Zionist movement was extensive. I had no idea of 
the role Chaim Weizmann had played and was playing in 
it. How, then, was I to guess that a still greater role 
awaited him, or, even more remote from probability, that 
he would admit me to his friendship and exercise a far- 
ranging influence on my life? 

Another subject I soon learned to avoid with Uncle 
Berel was socialism. Here I cannot speak of a division; 
Uncle Berel simply wasn't interested. My fierce insistence 
on the equality of all men elicited from him not a repudia- 
tive squiggle of the flatiron but a meditative "Mm — nn — 
yeh!," neither approving nor disapproving, followed by a 
long silence. At that point, I believe. Uncle Berel's respect 
for my college education was weaker than usual. I left it 
at that. 

I think of Uncle Berel as Virgilian because he was for 
a period my guide through various limbos of folk and 
family memories. I responded to them as a fascinated out- 
sider, for though they were mine I was detached from 
them; nearly half a century had to pass before those of 
the memories which I shared with him (I migrated in 1 900 
from Rumania, where he was a frequent visitor at our 
home, at the age of five) became something more than dis- 
connected little pictures in a gallery, and fused into a deep- 
toned, mysterious, and magic interior totality. When I was 
nineteen my childhood seemed to me to have been some- 
body else's, and it is only recently that I feel it to be more 
visibly and palpably mine than it was then or during the 
intervening years. There was, to be sure, much talk at 
home, in Manchester, about Rumania; Uncle Berel, how- 
ever, did not merely talk about it; he conducted me into 



He had a ritual. Every Saturday night, whether his ba- 
rometer stood at Fair or Foul, he went to a "service" at a 
certain little Rumanian Jewish restaurant on the lower 
East Side. (I have forgotten its name, and it surely closed 
its doors long ago.) It was nothing like Moskowitz's famous 
rendezvous, then on Houston Street. The premises were 
a basement four steps below the dirty street level; there 
was no instrumental music; the prices were modest. Uncle 
Berel's fellow-celebrants were all Rumanian Jews, elderly 
tailors, shoemakers, candy-store keepers, machinists, press- 
ers, who knew each other from of old by first name and 
the name of the town or village of origin: Leibu of 
Macheen* and Itzik of Pitchiniagu and Getzel of Barlad 
and Moishe of Glodorlui and Chaim of Podoturk and 
Mendel of Fokoshan. Ostensibly — and, as far as their 
consciousness went, genuinely — they assembled to eat 
karnatzlech, beigalech, mammaligge, and kachkeval, to 
drink what they called and apparently believed to be Ru- 
manian wine, and to play sixty-six and tablenette. They 
spoke Yiddish peppered with Rumanian phrases, and the 
conversation reverted in rhythms to old times. They re- 
membered the Chismijui of Bukarest, and the Red Bridge 
of Yasse, and the shool (synagogue) of Vaslui. (But they 
said sheel for shool, whereas I, relearning my Yiddish 
among Litvaks — Lithuanian Jews — here in America, said, 
and still say shool; I also say man (husband) instead of the 
Rumanian Yiddish mon^ and veib (wife) instead of vaah: 
I sometimes even slip into die before veib, that is, I use 
the feminine article instead of the neuter, Litvak Yiddish 
having no neuter article and veib being perversely neuter 
in Rumanian Yiddish, as in German.) From time to time 
Uncle Berel took me with him, and I enjoyed it intensely, 

• Throughout these pages, as an act of piety, I reproduce Rumanian names 
and words phonetically, Macheen for Macin, etc. I have identified the 
places on the map but cannot bring myself to distort them back into ac- 
curacy; so also with certain nouns. 


as observer rather than as participant. To my uncom- 
mitted and unenchanted palate karnatzlech were simply 
cigar-shaped rolls of chopped meat, overspiced and under- 
done; beigalech (not to be confused with heigel, which 
has been described as a doughnut dipped in cement) 
were merely meat patties, mammaligge a cornmush cake, 
kachkeval a rank cheese, none of them particularly ap- 
petizing. To Uncle Berel and his cronies these foods were 
sanctities; it was not an ordinary eating and drinking; 
they ate and drank time, they smacked their lips over the 
pathos of distance and irretrievability; their tastebuds had 
transcended their neural functions, serving as ministrants 
to the sweet melancholy of divided and uprooted souls. 

I have long wanted to write about these and other spirit- 
ual-associational values of food. It is not language alone, or 
even chiefly, that distinguishes man from the animals. A 
goat crops the grass but a man ingests the landscape and 
the heavens above it, and even a solitary meal can be an 

One would have thought that these emotions were asso- 
ciated for Uncle Berel and his cronies with the exile's 
vain-longing for the land of his birth, with remembered 
joys of a time and place, both lost forever. In Uncle Berel's 
case it was certainly nothing of the sort. He hated Rumania 
and never had a good word for it. He had grown up in a 
period of mounting Rumanian anti-Semitism. When he 
was a young man, thousands of Rumanian Jews were being 
driven from the country by poverty and repression. (Oh, 
idyllic, halcyon days, when Jews were driven from a coun- 
try instead of being incinerated in it — if only Uncle Berel 
could have known how considerate the Rumanians were!) 
Many of those who could not buy railroad tickets, or even 
hire a horse and cart, had formed into large groups which 
wandered westward on foot, begging their way, singing 



songs which have now become a little segment of the folk- 
lore. Uncle Berel had started out with one such group and 
had turned back, but whether it was his feet or his voice 
that gave out I do not know. He became a tailor, made 
enough money to buy passage for himself and his family 
as far as England, and later was helped on to America. 
Why did he, like the other frequenters of that restaurant, 
seem to hark back to a time of good eating and drinking, 
a time of high living and contentment? It was a psycho- 
optical illusion. These were the foods they had loved and 
never had enough of; what they harked back to was simply 
their youth. 

Uncle Berel put up a fight against the illusion. "What 
black year is it," he asked, wrathfully, "that makes me want 
to shed tears of love for Rumania when I hear a Rumanian 
song? Vulech gonef! (Wallachian rogue!) who didn't let a 
human being live! Vulech gonef! With his 'Hey, Zhidan!' 
(sheeny!) and his 'Don't stand here!' and 'Keep out of 
there!' " And once he flabbergasted me by an extraordin- 
ary outburst quite out of keeping with his native good 
humor. There was a fat woman singer in our little restau- 
rant. She sang Yiddish and Rumanian songs, without ac- 
companiment; the former I understood, and some of them, 
like A Brievalle der Mammen (Send Your Mother a Letter) 
and Eli, Eli (My God, My God, Why Has Thou Forsaken 
Me?) were dreadful; others, from Goldfaden and the folk- 
repertoire, were often beautiful. The Rumanian songs I 
did not understand, and why on that evening that particu- 
lar song did what it did to Uncle Berel I shall never know. 
I was watching him and saw his eyes becoming moist; sud- 
denly he stood up, drew a fifty-cent piece from his pocket, 
and hurled it across the room through the open door onto 
the steps, whence it bounced back with a shrill ringing. 
"Na dir, kurveh! — take it, whore!" howled Uncle Berel. 



The woman continued to sing as she made for the coin, 
and Uncle Berel sat down, quivering. 

He resented Rumania's shameless gate-crashing into his 
loving reveries of the past; it was a parasitic and defiling 
intrusion. But once he was launched on a sentimental 
binge Rumania always nicked in for an utterly unmerited 
place. He saw it, and was helpless to prevent it. It was 
as though a refugee from a German death camp, sole sur- 
vivor of a large family, were to hear a performer in a 
cabaret singing an innocent German folk song, and weep 
because it reminded him of his childhood. Uncle Berel also 
chided himself, with the same clear-sighted helplessness, 
for his disinclination toward a pressing machine. He was 
a believer in Americanism and progress, but his heart was 
stuck in the past; and what sharpened his resentment was 
his view of Rumania as the very embodiment of willful 
backwardness and moral beastliness. 

"A stinking land!" he said. "Not the land itself, which 
is lovely enough — such a year on all of us! — but the peo- 
ple. No, not the people, the cham, the tzaran (peasant), the 
stupid mass, but the preetzim (the aristocracy and the rich), 
the government, which keep them ignorant and brutish. 
Not for nothing did your mother carry on to make your 
father leave the country, so that your brothers and you 
wouldn't have to be Rumanian soldiers. Ask your father 
what that meant." 

I knew something about "that," but there was an odd 
difference-in-agreement between my father's way of telling 
it and Uncle Berel's. My father had served in a Rumanian 
cavalry regiment called (as he pronounced it) the 
Rawooshoren. There were at home, in Manchester, two 
photographs of him in uniform, and in the larger, tinted 
one he was heroically mounted, resplendent in uniform, 
sabre and all. He had risen to the rank of sergeant, a 



considerable achievement for a penniless Jew. As a child 
I had not been able to reconcile the dashing hero on 
horseback with the rather grim and frustrated shoemaker 
who was my father. The stories he told of his service were 
hair-raising and if only half true more than justified my 
mother's terrors and Uncle Berel's animadversions. The 
savagery of the non-coms toward the privates was equalled 
by the contempt of the officers for both. An unbridled 
sadism passed for discipline, and the quartermaster's serv- 
ice was corrupt through all its levels, so that the uniforms 
were ragged and the food, poor enough by regulation, was 
tampered with. I grew up with the notion that the Ruman- 
ian army was a hell. I suppose it couldn't have been as 
bad as all that — and yet a strange incident interpolates 
itself at this point. 

I was in Paris, on leave, in the spring of 1919, a sergeant 
in the A.E.F., waiting for my demobilization. Coming 
late one night out of the Rat Mort on the boulevard 
Clichy, I was accosted under a lamp by two Rumanian 
officers. Their lips were rouged, their eyes ringed with 
mascara. I had the impression that they wore corsets. They 
said something to me in Rumanian, and I recognized an 
obscene word I had heard from older people in our Man- 
chester group. I started back with such terror and loathing 
that they in turn started back from me and made off, laugh- 
ing vilely. I wanted them to know that I had understood 
them, and I wanted also to insult them. So I shouted 
after them: "Hey, Zhidan!" It was the only offensive 
Rumanian word I could think of. There may have been a 
second purpose, to this effect: "And you're the people who 
despise Jews and call them Zhidan." It is of course absurd 
to base one's judgment on a few reports and individual 
episodes — but I am recording my experiences and nothing 



With all his acknowledgment of the ghastly conditions 
in the Rumanian army, my father remembered his soldier 
days with pride. And when England declared war on 
Germany in 1914, and I as a pacifist refused to join up, 
my father was contemptuous of me. I also refused to re- 
main in England while others were enlisting (conscription 
did not come till two years later). In November 1914 I 
left for America; my mother rejoiced; Uncle Berel, for 
his part, approved wholeheartedly. 

"You couldn't have done a more sensible thing. I only 
wish the Jews could all get out of Europe, instead of having 
to shoot at each other, mir nisht, dir nisht, because goyim 
like to fight. They've always been at it, and they always 
will be. Ich hob sei alle in d'rerd — they can all go to hell." 

By the spring of 1917 my views had changed and my 
pacifism was tottering. I had become anti-German, and 
though not an American citizen, I could see where I would 
stand if America entered the war. I had to prepare Uncle 
Berel; so there were sharp exchanges, and it almost came 
to a quarrel. 

"What do you mean, Germany is the aggressor?" asked 
Uncle Berel. "What kind of language is that from you} 
England has a lot of colonies, Germany has hardly any, 
and she wants her share. You're a socialist and a Zionist, 
aren't you? You believe all men and all nations should be 

"There shouldn't be any colonies. Uncle Berel." 

"Right. But there are colonies. What difference does 
it make to you who has them?" He would break into the 
peculiar Yiddish singsong of logical discourse which has 
passed from the Talmudists to the folk. "I-if there were no 
colonies at all, and i-if Germany were going out to get 
some, I would say that Germany had to be stopped." He 
added, hastily: "Maybe," fearing he had yielded a strong 


interior position on which he might have to fall back later. 
"As it is, you want to defend an old thief from a young 

"Let it be so. Uncle Berel. I say an old thief is better 
than a young thief. He's tired, and his conscience bothers 
him, and he wants to make amends and be respectable. 
When he dies and there's no one to inherit he leaves his 
money to charity. He even practices charity before dying. 
A young thief has a fresh appetite; you can't let him start 
the whole dirty business all over again." 

"I don't see your old thief in such a state of exhaustion," 
said Uncle Berel, sarcastically. "According to the papers, 
he's giving as good as he's getting." 

That was how the main arguments went. Uncle Berel 
repeating "Ich hob sei alle in d'rerd" and I insisting that 
"they" were not all alike. I had forebodings about Ger- 
many, though perhaps not clearly on Jewish grounds. We 
skirmished on the question of "atrocities," which Uncle 
Berel laughed off as propaganda. Behind the spoken argu- 
ments were emotions we could not refer to; Uncle Berel 
was as fond of me as I of him; he trembled for me, and he 
felt some responsibility toward my mother. I knew I was 
going to disappoint and grieve both of them. 

Then America entered the war and I had to make my 
decision. I did not want to return to England, nor could I 
bring myself to enlist in the regular army; I was afraid 
of making myself ridiculous among professional soldiers. 
When the draft law was passed I took out my first papers 
so as to come under its operation, and to my immense 
relief my number was in the first batch — eight hundred 
and something. I received my training at Camp Upton, 
Long Island, and there Uncle Berel, dispirited but affec- 
tionate, would visit me, bearing always a gift of salami 
and black bread. I could not convince him that we were 



not only well fed but perhaps overfed; and he never be- 
came reconciled to my decision. 

One Sunday morning I took him round the system of 
trenches we had dug — a replica of a section of the Western 
front — and were learning to storm and defend. Uncle 
Berel looked long and earnestly, then turned to me. "These 
holes in the ground — you're supposed to let yourself be 
killed rather than give them up?" "Yes, Uncle Berel, that 
might be the order." "Vey, vey/' he mourned, "can human 
lunacy go further? Fool! If the other man wants them 
so badly that he's prepared to kill for them, let him 
have them! Go away and dig yourself another lot of 

He took a horrified, almost morbid interest in the de- 
tails of my military activity. He conceded that the Ameri- 
can army was nothing like the Rumanian, but the whole 
thing was mad anyhow. One circumstance made a pecu- 
liarly painful impression on him. My regiment, the 307th 
Infantry, had a large contingent of New York East-Siders, 
some of them recent arrivals in the country with very 
little knowledge of English. I was in Company F, and my 
captain, a likable lawyer named Davis, asked me whether I 
would not take over two squads of the newcomers and 
teach them the rudiments of close-order drill in Yiddish. 
It was a request rather than a command, and in an evil 
hour I accepted. My Yiddish had improved considerably in 
the last three years; I was reading the classics with enjoy- 
ment and already entertaining thoughts of translating 
Sholom Aleichem, Yal Peretz, and Mendelle into English. 
(I had made the personal acquaintance of Sholom 
Aleichem shortly before his death in 1916.) Uncle Berel 
had been indescribably delighted by my increasing pro- 
ficiency in the language, but he was profoundly shocked 
by the use to which I was now putting it. He was also 



puzzled: where did I get the military terminology? He 
had never heard of such a thing in Yiddish, Jews had 
never fought in that language. 

I told him that I gave the commands in English and 
explained their execution in Yiddish, with illustration. 
"Ven ich zog 'Te-en-shun!' you must stand up straight, ot 
azoi, like this, feet together at an angle, ot azoi, shoulders 
drawn back," and so forth. I confessed to Uncle Berel 
that I found the assignment not at all to my taste. The 
men didn't take me seriously, because of my Yiddish. They 
were willing enough to be soldiers, but they looked on 
me as an impostor. They argued with me, and one man, 
Strauss, a thickset Russian Jew, was particularly objec- 
tionable. "Look, Samuel, I've been standing and walking 
on my feet for over twenty years, and I haven't fallen 
down since I was a baby. I can stand like this, and I stand 
like this" — he took up various postures — "and I'm still 
standing. Give me a gun and I'll shoot all the Germans 
you want, but for God's sake fardreh mir nisht a kop — 
don't drive me out of my wits with that rubbishy left 
right, left right! Just tell me where to go and you'll see, I'll 
get there." 

"Strauss," I said, "I'm teaching you what I have to teach 
you. Go tell the captain." 

"And another thing," answered Strauss. "You want to 
say 'Attention'? Say it. Don't shout 'Te-en-shun!' and get 
red in the face. You want to say Torward march'? Don't 
yell 'Fa.w-wa.w-harch!' Say it plainly, reasonably, like a 
human being." 

"Isn't he right?" asked Uncle Berel, and went back to 
his lament. "Vey, vey, you take a beautiful language like 
Yiddish, a dear homey language, and with it you not only 
want to teach men to kill, you also want to turn them into 
idiots. For the sake of a hole in the ground. Feh!" 



I look back nearly half a century and wonder how far 
Uncle Berel would have carried his principles. Would he 
have agreed with Epictetus, who says: "If a man steals 
your lamp it is your fault for having a lamp"? I also 
wonder how in his brief Zionist interlude Uncle Berel the 
pacifist foresaw the emergence of the Jewish homeland. I 
dare say it was somewhat as follows: a large number of 
Jews would realize, under the magic of Herzl's persua- 
sion, that the time had come for them to rebuild their 
country; some would go there, others would help them; 
the nations of the world, under the same spell, would ap- 
plaud; the Arabs would receive the Jews with open arms: 
a Messianic picture. 

Was my own view, in my socialist-Zionist-pacifist days, 
any less naive? With all that we have witnessed since, the 
answer seems to be emphatically no. Yet there was a time 
before, during and after the First World War — the "war 
to end wars," the early days of the League of Nations — 
during which men far more sophisticated than Uncle Berel 
or I foresaw reasonably happy solutions of many general 
and particular problems. There were leading Jews, and 
leading Arabs, who believed, or at least officially declared 
that they believed, in fruitful Jewish-Arab co-operation. I 
digress at this point in order to defend myself — in my 
own eyes, too — against the charge of utter shlimihlishness, 
and I quote an extraordinary letter remembered by few. 
It was written by the Emir (later king of Iraq) Faisal, the 
head of the Arab delegation to the Paris Peace Conference 
of 1919, and addressed to Professor (later Justice) Felix 
Frankfurter, who was then active in the Zionist movement 
and co-operating with Chaim Weizmann, the head of the 
Zionist delegation: 

Dear Mr. Frankfurter: 

I wish to take this opportunity of my first contact 



with American Zionists, to tell you what I have often 
been able to say to Dr. Weizmann in Arabia and 

We feel that the Arabs and Jews are cousins in 
race, suffering similar oppressions at the hands of 
powers stronger than themselves, and by a happy 
coincidence have been able to take the first step to- 
ward the attainment of their national ideals together. 

We Arabs, especially the educated among us, look 
with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. 
Our deputation here in Paris is fully acquainted 
with the proposals submitted by the Zionist Organiza- 
tion to the Peace Conference, and we regard them 
as moderate and proper. We will do our best, in so 
far as we are concerned, to help them through; we 
will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home. . . . 

We are working together for a reformed and revived 
Near East, and our two movements complete one 
another. . . . 

People less informed and less responsible than our 
leaders, ignoring the need for cooperation of the 
Arabs and Zionists, have been trying to exploit the 
local differences that must necessarily arise in Pales- 
tine in the early stages of our movements. ... I wish 
to give you my firm conviction that these differences 
are not on questions of principle, but on matters of 
detail, such as must invariably occur in every contact 
with neighboring peoples, and as are easily dissipated 
by mutual good will. Indeed, nearly all of them will 
disappear with fuller knowledge. 

Philosophers will tell you that what has not happened 
could not have happened — a wonderful expression of the 
self-assurance of hindsight. But many things looked pos- 
sible in 1919 to men of good will, and if their hopes were 



disappointed it does not prove that the pessimists were 

In the course o£ the decades the things I learned about 
Rumania from and through Uncle Berel, and those I 
heard of at home in Manchester, and those I recall myself, 
have become submerged in the uniformity of that strange, 
clear, submarine light that now rests on all my childhood 
memories. Transpositions may have taken place; things 
told may, by repetition, have acquired the intensity of 
things lived; things lived may have fused with things told; 
all are equally "factual." 

The Jews of Rumania used to have a reputation as 
Lebejungen, high-livers, short on learning, much given to 
the world and the flesh, if not the devil. They, and to 
some extent Ukrainian Jews, also from a fat land, were 
contrasted with the lean and hungry intellectual Litvak 
(Lithuanian Jews). It may be an individual accident — my 
birth into a low economic stratum, the family destiny, my 
mother's temperament — but my personal memories do 
not bear this reputation out. Rumania is touched with 
sadness for me. In Uncle Berel's restaurant I once heard 
from the entertainer a song that had been a favorite with 
my mother, about the miseries of the Jewish conscript. I 
recall it very clearly: 

How many bitter tears my parents shed 
Before they saw me grown to man's estate; 
Now far from home I must lay down my head, 
The road is closed and bolted is the gate. 

So sing this song with me, my brothers dear. 
Your youth is gone, the happy time is done. 



Now you have reached your first and twentieth year, 
The next three years you are King Carol's son. 

Doleful enough words, and a doleful melody went with 
them; but even when she sang a song of cheer (I mean, as 
far as the words went) there was a disconsolate catch in 
my mother's voice that would have infused a cosmic dejec- 
tion into A-hunting We Will Go! Uncle Berel told me 
that as a girl my mother had been a jolly and lively crea- 
ture, which was as difficult for me to reconcile with my 
image of her as it had been to identify the dashing cavalry- 
man in the resplendant uniform with the careworn, over- 
worked, embittered mender of old shoes who was my 
father. It appalled me also to learn that once upon a time 
my mother had been able to read and write, and had cor- 
responded with my father in their courtship days. I knew 
her always as an analphabet, though wonderfully intel- 
ligent. Years of sickness and the struggle for a livelihood, 
especially after we migrated from Rumania, first to France 
and then to England, had beaten her down and atrophied, 
by disuse, such literacy as she had once possessed. 

My mother had a sweet voice and knew many songs. In 
her girlhood in Yasse, and then during a stay in Bucharest, 
she had been a frequenter of the plays and operas of 
Abraham Goldfaden, the founder of the modern Yiddish 
theater. Besides those arias of his which have become Yid- 
dish folklore (he was a kind of higher-level Stephen Foster 
to East European Jewry), like Rozhenkes un Mandlen 
(Raisins and Almonds), A Pastuch Is Amol Geven (A Shep- 
herd Once There Was), and the like, she had memorized 
passages which have not caught on in the same way, and 
which I have not heard again except at long intervals, 
when there has been a Goldfaden revival. (Just a few years 
ago, on the West Coast, a Hadassah group which I ad- 



dressed put on an excellent performance of Goldfaden's 
Shulamis, and ladies on either side of me, seeing me wipe 
my eyes furtively, said: "This must mean a great deal 
more to you than it can to us." It did.) Whatever my 
mother sang was flooded with melancholy. The cheerful 
Pilgrim's Chorus from Shulamis became a funeral march, 
so that, when I heard it rendered with the swing and high 
spirit Goldfaden had undoubtedly intended for it, I was 
shocked as by an act of irreverence. As to what my mother 
did with the intentionally doleful passages, I can only say 
that by comparison the heartbreaking recitative of Jere- 
miah's Book of Lamentations on the eve of the Black Fast 
sounded like an epithalamium. 

Uncle Berel told me that my mother began to change 
when she had to settle in the village of Macheen, where 
my father had set up a shoe-repair shop. She was a city girl, 
accustomed to the movement and gaiety of sizable places 
like Yasse and Bucharest and Braila. I remember with a 
vividness which places the experience beyond suspicion 
of dream or the recounted incident how my mother used 
to sit on the stoop of our house in Macheen and bewail 
her fate. Dead from the front of the house the dirt road 
ran off toward the Primeria (town hall), with Todoracu 
the barber on the right and Sooreh die blecherkie (Sarah 
the tinsmithess, i.e., the tinsmith's wife) on the left, and 
farther along, also on the left, the synagogue and the 
mikveh (ritual bathhouse). Our street, which was the dead 
end of the Primeria street, stretched one way to the Turk- 
ish quarter and the crossroads lantern which was the pride 
of Macheen, the other way to the glittering Teena 
(Danube), which made a bend and came round to the 
back of our house. Across more than six decades I hear 
my mother keening as she stares away, holding my head in 
her lap: "Gevald, vus bin ich farkrochen in der veest — God 



help me, how did I land in this wilderness? Fields and 
fields and fields, peasants and peasants and peasants. And 
the nights! Death itself!" It is from that childhood experi- 
ence, I sometimes think, that I have brought over my 
aversion to the deep countryside. I cannot bear its special 
silence. I am overcome by a shudder of fear when I have 
to walk alone at night along a deserted country road. It is 
not the fear of assault, or of some mishap, and certainly 
not of ghosts; it is an unnamable horror which sends me 
at top speed toward the light of a house and human com- 

The memory of those locations — town hall, crossroads, 
synagogue, Turkish quarter, lantern — I checked with 
Uncle Berel long ago, and more recently with my older 
brother, Mendel, who was in Macheen until the age of 
eleven. But the sound of my mother's voice and the words 
she uttered I shall never be able to check with anyone. 
The impression she left on me is in one sense a private 
affair, but in another sense the very opposite; for it is of 
the Golus, the Jewish Exile. Those words: "Vus bin ich 
farkrochen in der veest!" That voice, that sense of the lost 
and the exiled! 

There comes over, from my mother, from my childhood, 
I should even say from my infancy, and also from my youth 
and from Uncle Berel, a feeling of the dominant spirit 
of Golus desolation, and behind it, faintly, I hear the 
wailing of the muezzin on the minaret which was visible 
from our yard. Uncle Berel's "Beh! They won't let us" 
seems in my recollection to echo a general hopelessness and 
listlessness with regard to the Jewish condition among the 
Jews of my early years. "They won't let us" and "Who are 
we to undertake such an extraordinary enterprise?" As my 
mother had lost the ability to read and write, so the Jews I 
grew up among seemed to have lost, also through trans- 



mitted disuse, their faith in themselves as the creators and 
managers of a Jewish homeland. For a moment Herzl had 
broken through the paralysis; then, with his death, ancient 
habit had reasserted itself and — as I was to learn in the 
Zionist movement — it would take decades of agitation 
and frightful cataclysms to rouse the will and establish the 
self-confidence of the Jewish people. I call to mind the 
legend of Tarquin the Proud and the nine Sibylline Books. 
The Erythrean Sibyl offered them to the Roman at a crea- 
tain price; he refused; thereupon she burned three of them 
and offered the remainder at the same price. He refused 
again, and again she burned three books and offered the 
remainder at the same price. In the end Tarquin bought 
the three for the money which would have got him nine. 
So with the Jews; they dallied until they had to build their 
homeland after the two most vital Jewries — those of 
Poland and Russia — had been either destroyed or cut off 
from the rest of the world. 

We Zionists talk in our propaganda of the electric shock 
which passed through world Jewry when England issued 
the Balfour Declaration in 1917, supporting the plan for a 
Jewish homeland in Palestine. Yes, the reaction was vivid. 
I also remember out of my childhood how Herzl's brief 
and blazing career produced a similar effect in our humble, 
uninstructed corner of the Jewish world, and how his 
sudden extinction plunged us into mourning (the cliche 
is in this case a literal description). However, I also re- 
member that the wonder and worship that blossomed 
round Herzl had had no practical results in my environ- 
ment — they seemed to be waiting for him to do every- 
thing himself, like a Messiah — nor were the results im- 
pressive anywhere outside the little band of passionate 
devotees. The masses did not move at Herzl's call, and 
they did not move even after the Balfour Declaration. And 



yet, speaking for the world I grew up in, and the world 
round Uncle Berel, it was not a fundamental indifference. 
It was in part distrust of the world at large ("They won't 
let us"), in part distrust of self ("Who are we, etc?") and 
in part that Messianic attitude in a secular form. For Herzl 
had been a genuinely Messianic apparition, secular in 
externals, folkloristically sacred in essence, and thwarted 
by death. 

Uncle Berel was "electrified" and confused by the Bal- 
four Declaration. I was at the time of its issuance already a 
soldier. I had by then worked for, among others, the 
Zionist Organization of America, the Jewish Education 
Bureau of New York, a raincoat manufacturer in Cleve- 
land (that lasted two days: I left unobtrusively after having 
sewn some dozens of sleeve tabs into the armpit ends of 
the sleeves), and in the pit of the Goodyear Rubber plant 
in Akron (that lasted some months). I had done some 
hoboing in the Middle West, and had written two novels 
the manuscripts of which I was fortunate enough to lose, 
thereby saving myself a small fortune in stamps alone, and 
I had published several short stories in Mencken and 
Nathan's Smart Set. On one of my leaves I went with Uncle 
Berel to his restaurant. He wavered that evening between 
gratitude for the Balfour Declaration, suspicion of duplic- 
ity, distrust of destiny, and above all doubts as to the 
capacities of the Jewish people. 

"A ness, a miracle," he said. "Excellent, anshtendig, 
decent," and so on, diminuendo. "Let's suppose that Eng- 
land means it and the other allies agree. Is it bashert, 
destined, and can our Yiddalach do it? Es leigt sich nit offn 
sechel — it somehow doesn't make sense." 

Somewhere along the line, in centuries of exile, humilia- 
tion, and everlasting displacement, the Jews seem to have 
formed an attachment to their misery. The sense of earthly 



futility, too, was to them part of Jewishness. There was 
not only acquiescence in their status, there was also a 
lachrymose enjoyment of it. On the evening to which I 
refer, the entertainer sang a Rumanian refrain I had heard 
from my mother. All I remember of the words is: 

O saracu Plevna nostra, 

Ah, aman aman, ah, aman aman . . . 

The first line means: "Alas, alas for our Plevna," and I 
take it to refer to the famous battle or battles of Plevna in 
the Turko-Russian war of 1877, in which Rumania had 
had a part ("Old, unhappy, far-off things and battles long 
ago"), and what the second line means I do not know. But 
I remember that in the song occurred the names of Osman 
Pasha and Skoboliev, and when she uttered them my 
mother made a gesture of horror. The song is also associ- 
ated in my mind with one of the earliest, perhaps the 
earliest visual recollection out of my childhood — a squad 
of soldiers in dusty, gray-white uniforms marching past our 
house toward the Turkish quarter. In my mother's singing 
there was a great compassion for the soldiers, and a touch 
of despair at the bloody antics of the goyim in which Jews 
were compelled to join mir nisht dir nisht, as Uncle Berel 
used to say. And both Uncle Berel and my mother had a 
deep-rooted if unformulated conviction that the world, 
with its privileges and triumphs, was not for the Jews until 
something like a Messianic transformation had taken 


i<>!i n^ i5?>5l 

^ 27 ^ 


Time Present, Place Here 



AM WRITING this book in the land Uncle Berel said 
"they" would never let us have. I keep thinking: "How 
wonderful if I could get him a visitor's visa from wherever 
he is — assuming he could get a passport — and show him 
round: 'Look! It has happened after all!' " I have had this 
thought about others, about relatives and friends, my 
parents, my rebbe (Hebrew teacher), those who have long 
been keeping Uncle Berel company, but about him in 
particular, because he was so obstinately persuaded that 
it could not happen, and because he would be so pleased 
to be proved wrong. 

But it is also because I am living in the Weizmann Insti- 
tute of Science, where they are answering questions he 
used to ask, and many others he could not have thought 
of. I am playing Uncle Berel, as it were, to the scientists 
here. "Tell me something about the mechanism of hered- 
ity. What is the situation today in atomic science? By what 
means do they plot the structure of a molecule? How do 
you prepare a program for the electronic computer?" I 
have been trying, over the last few years, to make good — 
to whatever extent it is possible, so late, with so little 
equipment — a painful defect in my education. It is a 


wonderful adventure, the most exciting I have ever under- 
taken; and it brings me very close to Uncle Berel. 

One thing in particular I would like to tell Uncle Berel. 
"Do you remember asking me: 'Who's going to lead us 
now? Where will we find another Herzl?' And do you 
remember that I never mentioned the name of Chaim 
Weizmann? Well, he was the man, as great in his own 
way as Herzl. From boyhood into old age he labored for 
this land. His share in it is incomparably the greatest of 
his generation. And if it were not for him I would cer- 
tainly not be here. I don't mean in Israel, but at the 
Weizmann Institute." And I can imagine Uncle Berel 
murmuring: "It is a marvelous world . . . the mind of 
man can't look through the deepness of it all." 

When I first saw Rehovoth nearly forty years ago there 
was of course no Weizmann Institute; there was hardly a 
Rehovoth. The area was part habitation, part orchard and 
orange grove, but, like the rest of the country, mostly 
wilderness. Its largest population was of jackals — their 
diminishing tenth and eleventh generations can still be 
heard lamenting in the nights — and the road from the tiny 
village to the nearest town, Tel Aviv, was sand, into which 
the wheels of the diligence sank several inches. It took four 
or five hours each way; now the taxi makes it in twenty 
minutes (thirty with a sensible driver) on the metalled 
road. Rehovoth, with its twenty thousand inhabitants, is 
bigger than Tel Aviv was then, and a twenty-fifth part of 
what Tel Aviv is now. Furious traffic pours back and forth, 
local buses and trucks, buses and trucks to and from the 
northern cities and Beersheba, private cars, motorcycles, 
tourist buses. Behind its gates the Institute is, to all seem- 
ing, a world apart. 

It is a lovely place, eighty acres of multicolored garden 
and lawn and grove, with green predominant, but rich in 



scarlet and mauve and purple, Monterey and Kashmir 
cypresses, pine, flame tree, bougainvillea, and poinciana 
regia. I am under a constant tugging toward the outdoors, 
even in the heat of the day, but I parcel out the hours with 
a stern hand. In the morning I write, in the afternoon re- 
ceive my teachers; toward twilight I leave the Faculty 
Club House and stroll from building to building: Nuclear 
Physics, Experimental Biology, Electronic Computer, 
Heavy Water Tower, Plant Genetics, library. My favorite 
walk is along the shining tree-lined road which ends in a 
spacious marble-paved plaza; from here a narrow, sandy 
track leads between lantana, oleander, honeysuckle, 
geranium, and rose bushes to the grave of Chaim Weiz- 
mann. A plain, horizontal marble slab bears his name in 
Hebrew, nothing more, no mention of honors or other 
worldly circumstance, not even dates of birth and death. 
To the right, on the little hill, is the stately house in which 
I so often sat with him in his latter years, and from which 
we could look down on the spot he had chosen for his 
burial place. 


It is the complete division, for me, between two non- 
communicating worlds that has triggered off so powerfully 
the impulse to write about my inner life. I am a collection 
of memories and emotions, loves and hates, sweet silent 
thoughts, delights pertaining to persons and books, deep 
attachments — to my people, to America, to Israel, to Eng- 
land — recurrent longings to be "better" than I am, 
glimpses of a Power for which I accept the name of God; 
and all this has no bearing on, no connection with what 
I am trying to build up as the concept (I will not say "pic- 
ture") of scientific "reality." I find the two worlds incom- 



mensurable. Is it because I am a tyro in science? Is it be- 
cause science is still in its infancy? Men whose intelligence 
I respect, whose scientific competence is attested in high 
places, tell me that in time a connection will be established 
between thoughts and emotions on the one hand and the 
measurable behavior o£ atoms and electrical charges on the 
other; at least a connection of rigid correspondence. For 
the moment all I understand, and that only in part of 
course, is the reasoning behind the Crick- Watson model of 
DNA, the tables of the atomic shells, the logic of the Stern- 
Gerlach experiment, the procedures of X-ray crystallog- 
raphy, some of the reports on electroencephalography. 
There is aesthetic as well as intellectual fascination 
here, but this emotion is irrelevant except as the driving 
force toward study. Or, if it is relevant, we must think in a 
new way about the manner of its operation. 

I pondered this problem as I stood late one night before 
WEIZAC, our Weizmann Institute electronic computer, 
which is kept working twenty-four hours a day throughout 
the year. He (I use this pronoun because there is no neuter 
gender in Hebrew, and I prefer "he" to "she" because I 
cannot associate complete absence of emotion with the 
feminine) is pretty old, having been put together seven 
or eight years ago. He was quite a man, or rather, quite the 
thing, in his prime, that is, on the day he was completed — 
computers differ from living things like men and other 
animals in being at their best when born and falling into 
obsolescence more rapidly. Not that old WEIZAC has 
deteriorated; kept in good order he performs as well as 
ever. He is simply outclassed by the new computers, one of 
which is being constructed next door to him with his self- 
less assistance.* The new computers will also be outclassed 

* As I correct proofs in America, I learn that old WEIZAC is done for. 
He computed himself out of existence on the question of whether he was 
worth keeping. I shall miss him. 



in a few years. We may soon have a computer (or have we 
one already?) that can not only keep itself in order but 
improve itself to keep pace with the progress of man's 
needs. WEIZAC is unable to process the material I have 
just referred to, my loves and hates and moral qualms, 
even if the mathematicians were able to program them. 
But tomorrow, or the day after . . . 

I stand before WEIZAC and his lights blink at me. Con- 
trol instructs Input: "Feed information to Memory"; in- 
structs Output: "Print information from Memory"; 
instructs Memory: "Transfer information to Processor" 
and: "Send information to Control"; instructs Processor: 
"Process information received from Memory and transfer 
back to Memory." In a matter of a few seconds a million 
million "Yes-No, Yes-No" operations produce the answer 
to the programmed question. It would have taken math- 
ematicians weeks or months to work it out. And yet 
WEIZAC is a primitive; there is even, in that blinking 
of his, a suggestion of the animistic, and more than a sug- 
gestion in the terminology of his parts. 

What will his sucessors be like? 

I go out from his presence into the star-studded night 
and stroll in the silent garden. I feel that I represent mil- 
lions and millions of my kind: I shall have to get used to 
certain things; but when I have done that, what will I be 


® 32 ® 


The Twig Is Bent 


TATisTicALLY I am dead several time over. If Uncle 
Berel had been an actuary, he would have known that 
anyone born in 1895 in such advanced countries as Eng- 
land and America had an even chance of being alive at 
fifty; it was less than an even chance for one who was born 
and continued to live in Rumania. My mother bore nine 
children, three of whom died in infancy; two little 
brothers, Aaron and Naphthali, I never knew; I remember 
as in a vivid dream a sister called Bessie, and I remember 
the pall that fell on the house with her death. As regards 
the family, then, I had two chances in three of surviving 
my infancy, but that is only the beginning of the list of 

I was born together with a twin sister, Hannah, who 
died in 1955. When we came into the world, my mother 
had three infants and two youngsters to look after, and 
the double addition was too much for her. I was put out 
to a Turkish wet nurse who nearly settled the problem 
when I was a few months old. In letters my father wrote 
me shortly before his death in 1924, he told me how I 
peaked and pined and was discovered, on an unexpected 
visit, in such filth and misery that I was snatched back 


home. In respect to that episode alone, I overcame a ten- 
to-one hazard. 

Now suppose my mother had not nagged my father to 
leave Rumania and I had stayed on there for the rest of 
my undetermined life; what would have been my chances 
of surviving the Hitler time, to say nothing of intervening 
dangers? Or suppose we had settled permanently in Paris, 
where we stayed for nearly a year before proceeding to 
Manchester, and suppose I had been a French conscript 
in the First World War; or suppose I had served in the 
British army instead of the American; or, serving in the 
American army, suppose I had been sent to the front in- 
stead of getting no nearer to it than the advanced zone, 
whence I was recalled to serve in GIL There were also 
many private narrow escapes in my life, though these are 
perhaps part of the general statistical table; once I nearly 
stepped into an elevator shaft on the twentieth floor when 
the elevator was not there, and once a farmer in Ohio shot 
at me when I was stealing peaches from his orchard. It was 
night, and he missed, but I heard the bullet like a mos- 
quito near my ear, and I ran like mad. However I look at 
it, I am astonished at being here. 

On the other hand, if I have defied statistics till now, 
statistics will turn their tables on me in the end. I shall 
assuredly die before my time. We all do, with an uncol- 
lected statistical life expectancy. 

A more subtle statistical puzzle lies in the fact that I 
grew up into me and not somebody else. The probabilities 
pointed at a kind of me that depresses the me I became. 
For, granting me a normal span of life, what would have 
been my opportunities had my family stayed on, as the 
majority of Jews did, in Rumania? 'Taney," I often say 
to myself, "not having the treasures of the English Ian- 
gauge and literature to ransack! Fancy not to have known 



at first hand the greatness of England and America. All 
that I have read, all that I have seen, 

cities of men 
And manners, climates, councils, governments, 

(a little exaggeration here), the spiritual and intellectual 
excitements which have not yet ceased to visit me, would 
have remained unrealized. 

I became a socialist and atheist around the age of thir- 
teen, whether before or after my bar mitzvah (confirma- 
tion) I cannot remember. Probably after, because, being a 
contumacious youngster, I would no doubt have refused 
to go through with the ceremony if I had considered it 
"intellectually dishonest." 

But the evil seed sprouted before the ceremony; during 
my last months at cheder I was, with my pointed question- 
ing and challenging of sacred things, the affliction of my 
rehhe, a large, fat, and decent man with a vast black beard, 
a hypochondriac wife, and no pedagogic skill whatsoever. 
That Manchaster cheder on Waterloo Road might as a 
matter of fact just as well have been in Rumania for all 
the relationship it bore to the surrounding world: the 
front room of my rebbe's house, thirty to forty boys be- 
tween the ages of six and thirteen jammed into it, various 
groups chanting their lessons separately, a marvelously 
organized bedlam. And yet I am still troubled by my 
wicked behavior toward my rebbe, and if it sounds queer 
that one should brood occasionally on boyhood sins more 
than half a century old, we have St. Augustine's warrant 
for it; he in maturity remembered with passionate weeping 
how at the age of seven he had stolen some pears, not be- 
cause, like me in Ohio, he had been hungry, but just for 



the hell of it. How much of "just for the hell of it" lingers 
in us till the end! 

My rebbe was a man of learning and in some respects 
not more than two or three centuries behind the times. 
He taught me Hebrew so badly that I quickly and willingly 
forgot whatever I had picked up in seven years of cheder 
attendance. He was, however, a gifted storyteller, and when 
he went into the Midrashim (the ancient, extra-Biblical 
homiletic and folkloristic literature), he held us fascinated. 
He was equally effective when he expounded the Pirke 
Abot (The "Ethics of the Fathers," a section of the Tal- 
mud). But the Midrashim and Pirke Abot came only once 
a week, the Saturday afternoon treat. He also expounded 
then the beauties of the ancient Jewish moral and civil 
codes; he dwelt on the laws of Peot, the leaving of the 
corners of the harvest field to be gleaned by the widow, 
the orphan, and the stranger, and of the fruit that lay on 
the ground after a windfall. From the Pirke Abot I learned 
at the age of eight or nine that I would avoid sin and 
egotism if I remembered what my origin was — a putrid 
drop; also that he who puts on flesh is only providing food 
for worms. I must say that my rebbe did not seem to me 
to be troubled by this last bit of information. He was over- 
weight and very fond of cookies and tea between regular 
meals. During the week he tried to drum Chumash (the 
Pentateuch) and Rashi (the great medieval commentator) 
into us by the brute force of repetition. 

When I became a socialist, the laws of Peot outraged 
me. Why should some men be so well off that the poor 
could subsist on their leavings, and why should the Law 
countenance this situation and even enable the rich man 
to collect heavenly merits by its means? I understood 
only much later that there was being implanted in me a 
deep regard for the moral element in ancient Jewish pre- 



scription and legislation, and I regret that I was not able 
to tell my rebbe of. my change of view. 

My conversion to socialism and atheism was the unex- 
pected end result of an event that occurred when I was 
twelve and a half years old. I won a scholarship to the 
Manchester Secondary School. I think I was the first in 
our clan and in our whole Rumanian Jewish colony, then 
fairly new in Manchester, to perform the feat. It was a 
very good scholarship; free tuition for five years and an 
"Exhibition" of five pounds for the first year. My parents 
were awestruck by the generosity of England; they con- 
trasted my good fortune with the melancholy experience 
of my two older brothers, who had topped their classes in 
the village school of Macheen and had been harassed and 
insulted for their Jewish pushfulness. As for me, I cele- 
brated the event by a revolution in my reading habits and 
in my thinking. 

Until then I had devoured weekly ten or a dozen boys' 
magazines: The Boys of St. Jims, The Boy's Friend, The 
Boy's Leader, The Union Jack, The Gem, The Marvel, 
and the like. Since these magazines used to cost an English 
penny (two cents) each, and my weekly pocket money, 
delivered every Saturday afternoon, was a ha'penny (half- 
penny), I had to enter an organization of twenty boys or 
more, nearly all from homes as poor as mine, and all 
equally addicted to this type of literature. Two of us bought 
one magazine and twenty of us would have ten magazines 
to pass around. Occasionally double-numbers were issued 
in gorgeously colored covers, price twopence, and if ordi- 
nary numbers were musts, double-numbers were double- 
musts. We usually managed somehow, and gorged on the 
thirty-two-page issues. When the news arrived that I had 
won the scholarship, I was filled with a sudden horror of 
my wasted life. I made a solemn vow to put away folly and 
frivolity and to prepare myself for greatness. 



Whether or not I immediately began to ply my rebbe 
with outright socialistic and atheistic questions I do not, 
as I have said, remember; if I did not, I sailed very close 
to the wind, an exceedingly ill wind, for this I do remem- 
ber: my rebbe foretold that I would come to a spectacularly 
bad end, and that in my downgoing I would involve large 
numbers of Jews, if not the entire Jewish people, and 
probably a contingent of gentiles as well. In our Man- 
chester-Rumanian semi-ghetto, socialism and atheism 
were blindly but not quite unjustly yoked together, and 
with them, not quite so justly, a disrespect for the 
decencies and for the welfare of Jewry. 

It was a predominantly unhappy time for me, though 
shot through with ecstatic interludes. I was frustrated in 
my search for knowledge. The new reading material I 
hankered for was expensive, and the juvenile section of 
the public library did not carry it. There was in those days 
a publishing enterprise called The Sixpenny Rationalist 
Reprints — Herbert Spencer, Ernst Haeckel, Joseph Mc- 
Cabe among others. But who had sixpence? The bloated 
rich. There was also a secondhand bookstall in an alley 
near Shudehill, where tattered copies of the Reprints could 
be had for twopence. Twopence was my weekly allowance 
after I had won the scholarship, and though I earned or 
cadged a few pennies now and again, I never had enough. 
In this new world I had entered there were no companions 
with whom to pool resources. I used to borrow the Re- 
prints at a penny a time; I also used to borrow surreptiti- 
ously. I have long been convinced that the cadaverous 
young man who ran the bookshop knew all about my 
unpaid borrowings, and it has occurred to me that such 
business practices accounted for his cadaverous appear- 

I resented my poverty and was in some ways ashamed 
of it. I could not make friends with more prosperous fellow 



high-school students. The front room of our house was 
used by my father as his shoe-repair shop, while everybody 
else's front room was a parlor. There wasn't a room for 
talking in. 

My deepest source of unhappiness was spiritual. I 
wrestled in the usual adolescent fashion with ontological 
problems which gave a nihilistic background to my social 
and moral thinking. I also dabbled in, rather than studied, 
astronomy. I managed to get hold of an ancient telescope 
with a one and a half inch aperture, and constructed a 
clumsy hand-worked equatorial which moved so jerkily 
that it was worse than nothing, except for the pride it gave 
me in my workmanship; but I never went beyond the 
mathematics of the three Keplerian laws. It was all loosely 
observational, a sidereal Cook's tour, watching for Halley's 
comet and sketching the mountains of the moon and look- 
ing for nebulae and asteroids. I had unforgettable mo- 
ments, and I never see the Pleiades without recalling the 
cry of terror and bliss that escaped me when I first turned 
my ramshackle little telescope on them. But as I probed 
the heavens I saw our planet, our solar system, and our 
galaxy shrink into insignificance. The clockwork of the 
stars and planets was reflected back for me into human 
affairs, exposing will and purpose as illusions. Life was 
meaningless and all our striving a vain gesticulation: 
slogans, movements, dreams of human improvement, 
martyrdoms — nothing but a predetermined jigging of 
matter. The greatest thinkers of the ages were in no better 
case than the most benighted clods, and to the wisest I 
conceded at best only a superior sophistication in self- 

Among the first paperbacks I bought — I shall return to 
the occasion — ^were certain works by one Robert Blatch- 
ford, a widely admired socialist and science popularizer, 



and those that left the profoundest impression on me were 
his Merrie England, Britain for the British, and Not 
Guilty, a Defense of the Bottom Dog. Blatchford's name 
was always linked with two others, Victor Grayson and 
H. M. Hyndman. They were the terrible trio of revolu- 
tionary England fifty-odd years ago. Grayson was a young 
socialist member of Parliament, Hyndman was the elderly 
intellectual leader of the British Labor Party, which had 
just begun to make a respectable showing in the House of 
Commons. To me they were the Trinity, and their fates 
were various. Grayson disappeared from England and not 
much later died obscurely in a little town in Australia. 
Blatchford, who at one time edited the socialist daily, The 
Clarion, became a reactionary and a spiritualist after the 
First World War. Only Hyndman, the most substantial of 
the three, carried on consistently until his death in 1921. 
By then much had happened to me. I had settled in 
America and established my friendship with Uncle Berel; 
I had done my two years in the American army, I had been 
a secretary on the Morgenthau Commission which investi- 
gated the Polish pogroms of 1919. I had been demobilized 
in Paris, where I had opened a public stenography office for 
Americans, I had served as interpreter on the Allied Repa- 
rations Commissions in Berlin and Vienna, I had mastered 
Yiddish and was learning Hebrew, I had married, and I 
had returned to America with my first publishable novel. 
But to go back. Blatchford's effect on me in my adoles- 
cence was shattering. He was a Sinaitic voice and every- 
thing he said was law. I remember, fifty years after I last 
read him, phrases of his which were like hammer blows. 
On the irreconcilability of interest between worker and 
employer he quoted a Hindu proverb: "I am bread, thou 
art the eater, how can peace be between us?" On the un- 
suspected dormant strength of the working classes he said: 



"They are like the lions in the zoo; every keeper knows 
that they can, with a sudden effort, break the bars of the 
cages; but the lions don't know it." On the problem of 
the lowest kind of labor in a socialist state and who would 
do it, he said: "We can make it attractive by shortening 
the hours. But at least we won't see fat aldermen guzzling 
oxtail soup at dinner while factory girls starve." I am not 
sure of the exact phrasing, but I am sure of the key words. 
I went about repeating them somberly to myself. "Fat alder- 
men guzzling oxtail soup!" What a revolting picture! And 
the juxtaposition with starving factory girls! I took it that 
oxtail soup was the most luxurious and expensive kind of 
soup in existence; not necessarily tasty, but gratifying to 
the sense of power and exclusiveness, like peacocks' noses 
at Roman banquets. That aldermen were fat, and that they 
guzzled, was self-understood; I was filled with indignation 
and disgust. Equally self -understood, because Blatchford 
said so — also because it was such an appealing thought — 
was the lion's tragic unawareness of its own powers; and I 
tagged on to Blatchford's scientific discovery some lines 
from Shelley: 

Rise like lions after slumber, 
In unvanquishable number; 
Ye are many, they are few. 

At thirteen I became a stump speaker for the Socialist 
Party, stupefying the neighborhood and vindicating my 
rebbe. I also went out, as a prodigy, to neighboring towns: 
Oldham, Wigan, Altringham, Irlam o' the Heights (pro- 
nounced Irlamathites, like a sect, or a Biblical tribe). At 
street corners near and far I thundered in a treble against 
Winston Churchill when, having been promoted to a 
cabinet post in Asquith's government, he contested a by- 
election in Manchester. I defeated him. But it was his Tory 



opponent, Joynson-Hicks, who got in, and not the socialist 
I had supported, a certain Daniel whose second name I 
have forgotten. The Churchill supporters sang, to the tune 
of Tramp, Tramp , Tramp, the Boys Are Marching: 

Vote, vote, vote for Winston Churchill 
He is sure to win the day. 
Don't be fooled by Joynson-Hicks 
And his dirty Tory tricks . . . 

I sang with the socialists: 

Dare to be a Daniel, 
Dare to stand alone . . . 

(which we pretty nearly did) and: 

The people's flag is deepest red. 
It's shrouded oft our martyred dead; 
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold 
Their heart's blood dyed its every fold. 

What the victorious Tories sang I do not remember. 

At one point in my earlier socialist career I was a fiery 
supporter of Lloyd George, the Liberal, because he advo- 
cated the nationalization of land. The Liberals had a quite 
extraordinary song which even today would smack of ex- 
treme leftism if not of barricades. Like many English 
political songs, it was borrowed, as to melody, from Amer- 
ica — this time Marching Through Georgia: 

The land, the land, 'twas God who made the land! 
The land, the land, the ground on which we stand! 
Why should we be beggars with the ballot in our hand? 
God made the land for the people. 

My high-school and university years were filled with 
political and intellectual excitement, and with extremes 



of mood that were almost manic-depressive. I got to know 
the Lancashire weavers and their clog-and-shawl-wearing 
wives, and I conceived an enduring affection for certain 
little places and groups — warm, eager, hopeful talk, kindly 
faces and bad teeth, fish and chips after the meetings, or 
sometimes only chips carried out of the chip shop on a 
piece of newspaper. But I was not at ease in my early 
socialist phase. I suffered from recurrent longings for a 
Jewish way of life. I was troubled less by my atheistic than 
by my socialist philosophy. "Jewish atheist," while obvi- 
ously unorthodox, was somehow not impossible; "Jewish 
socialist," with its implication of cosmopolitanism and re- 
jected Jewishness, was. I lived in a marvelous muddle, 
which I shall describe further on. 

In my post-high-school socialist phase I was acutely un- 
comfortable for other reasons. At the university, to which 
I won a three-year scholarship at sixty pounds a year (a 
large sum in those days), my socialist comrades exasperated 
me by their dogmatism, by their intellectual bullying (I 
was all persuasiveness, of course), and above all by their 
addiction to the phrase: "For the simple reason that . . ." 
The simple reason was never satisfactory; besides, "simple" 
was a reflection on my intelligence; worst of all, they were 
always implying that a good socialist never asked funda- 
mental questions. 

Among my comrades in those days was a volcanic, 
diminutive redhead, Ellen Wilkinson, who ultimately be- 
came a cabinet minister in the Labor government. Another 
was a tall, lean young man with a death's-head face, J. T. 
Walton-Newbold. He told us that he was going to die soon 
of consumption, and he looked it. He broke that promise 
and many others. He, too, entered Parliament and later 
went from socialism to Communism, from Communism to 
Fascism. Wilkinson and Walton-Newbold were ready to 



Stake their lives on the prophecy that no great war would 
ever be fought in an industrialized area; the proof was the 
last imperialist war, the Russo-Japanese, which had been 
fought out in the empty spaces of the Far East. War, they 
said, there would be, but not where productive property 
would be endangered; the Pax Capitalisma, an echo of the 
Pax Romana, forbade it. 

I, on the other hand, was ready to stake my life, or at any 
rate talk others to death, on the thesis that there would not 
be any kind of war any more. Let a war be declared, I 
said, and the workers, the toiling masses, would rise in 
their might — workers never rose in anything else for me — 
and pull the imperialist conspirators from their place of 
power to establish universal and everlasting brotherhood 
and peace. 

My sharpest disagreements with my fellow-socialists were 
provoked by their rigid historical and economic determin- 
ism. I agreed that socialism was the only conceivable moral 
order, but how could that which was automatically in- 
evitable also be moral? I continued to chant loyally: "The 
nationalization of the instruments of production, distri- 
bution, and exchange," but in spite of despondent lapses 
into a wider mechanistic philosophy — during which I 
hadn't the slightest interest in mankind's future or my 
own — I found the "inevitability" of socialism not only 
incompatible with a theory of morals, but personally 
offensive as well. If the world was moving to perfection 
under an iron law and at its own pace, it needed no help 
from me; I was making a fool of myself arguing with 
people to bring about what they could neither accelerate 
nor delay. "Inevitability" took the heart out of me. 

This frustration did not face me in Zionism. Herzl had, 
to be sure, declared the Jewish state to be a historic in- 
evitability, but Zionists were not as a rule given to historic 



determinism. We believed that a Jewish state ought to be 
created in Palestine; to work for it was right and proper 
whether or not we succeeded. We differed in our estimates 
of our chances, but we were content with a belief in the 
feasibility of our program. Those that went beyond — and 
there were many — appealed to faith, not to historic 

In New York I discovered for the first time that there 
was such a thing as a socialist-Zionist movement. There 
may have been a branch of it in Manchester, but I do not 
remember coming across it. The Zionists I knew were anti- 
socialist, the JcAvish socialists anti-Zionist. But more pleas- 
ing was the discovery that one could be a socialist within 
the general Zionist movement, which was strongly tinged 
with liberalism. One could, through the Zionist congresses 
and funds, support socialist-oriented enterprises in Pales- 
tine, and thus work for socialism at large by creating a 
socialist Jewish state. I did not join the socialist-Zionist 
party. I had had enough of "inevitability." 

In our few exchanges on Zionism and socialism I 
prophesied to Uncle Berel that a Jewish homeland would, 
when it came into being, play its part in making a better 
world, and in my new-found passion for the Bible I 
quoted: 'Tor from Zion shall go forth the Law and the 
word of God from Jerusalem." I kept my fingers crossed, as 
it were, for the second half of this famous verse, for after 
all I was an atheist. I interpreted "Law" in my own way, 
the law of economic equality. 

Well, here I am in the Jewish homeland, which was 
something of a mirage fifty years ago. It is a remarkable 
phenomenon — certainly, despite many defects, a progres- 
sive force in world affairs; but it is not socialistic or ever 



likely to be of its own free will. Nor do I want it to be, for 
I no longer believe that "the nationalization of the instru- 
ments of production, distribution, and exchange" is the 
best managerial formula for a country's affairs — or even a 
good one. I don't believe it to be workable, at least not 
until human beings are at such an advanced moral stage 
that system is irrelevant. What is more, I don't believe that 
"the toiling masses" want all-round economic equality; 
they want a decent life, a sufficiency with security, and 
freedom spiced with the play of reasonable differentia- 
tions; and if they can get all this without economic 
equality, they will gladly concur. 

In this they are morally right, with a profound intuitive 
and practical rightness. I see the problem now in a totally 
different light. It is a destructive baseness which impels 
men to say: "This is what I want for myself, and I won't 
let others have more." 

Long after I had seen Uncle Berel for the last time I 
came across a passage from Karl Marx which helped me to 
crystallize permanently my rejection of economic egalitar- 

A house may be large or small, but as long as the 
surrounding houses are equally small, it satisfies all 
social requirements of a dwelling-place. But let a 
palace arise by the side of this small house, and it 
shrinks from a house to a hut. The smallness of the 
house now indicates that its occupant is allowed to 
have either very few claims or none at all; and how- 
ever high it may shoot up with the progress of civiliza- 
tion, if the neighboring palace shoots up in the same 
or greater proportion, the occupant of the small house 
will always find himself more uncomfortable, more 
discontented . . . [My italics. M.S.] 



What a ghastly indictment of human nature, what a 
despairing prospect for the human species! I know it is 
not easy to define "sufficiency," but I am sure that if a man 
has to survey his neighbor's portion before he can decide 
whether his own is adequate, the very concept of "suffi- 
ciency" disappears; the principle of measurement has 
ceased to be appetitional satisfaction and has become envy. 
But envy is unappeasable; it is watchful, touchy, self- 
promoting; it discovers differences where there are none, so 
that if objective economic equality could be enforced, the 
feeling of it would not follow. Thus the demand for an 
unattainable feeling of equality becomes the enemy of an 
attainable satisfaction; it is the sacrifice of humanity on the 
altar of a nobly immoral principle. 

Together with the chanted "nationalization of" etc., 
other slogans of the early days have taken on a hollow 
sound. "Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing 
to lose but your chains ..." When the slogan was coined, 
a hundred years ago, it was a barely permissible propa- 
ganda exaggeration; by the early part of the twentieth 
century it was a disastrous falsehood. The German and 
Italian workers had something to lose, and they lost it to 
Hitler and Mussolini. The workers of Russia had less to 
lose, except in prospect, and it will be some time before 
they realize what they lost unnecessarily in order to im- 
prove their condition. 

But I have more than that to say about the socialist 
movement. If its theoretical base now looks to me like 
nonsense, I am still filled with admiration for its practical 
achievements and with gratitude for the part it has played 
in my life. The modern Western world would today be a 
charnel house if the socialist movement had not inter- 
vened. Its courage and idealism, if accompanied by wrong 
reasoning, sprang from the right moral instinct. Imperfect 



our modern Western world certainly is, but one can only 
think with horror of what it would have been without the 
great socialist movement. The classic capitalists were 
mostly horrible, conscienceless men. Their historic func- 
tion was to make the breakthrough, to squeeze out of the 
workers the indispensable accumulation of investment 
capital. Driven by obsessive greed and lust for power, they 
performed their function with furious — and unnecessary — 
brutality. The pace could and should have been slower; 
the withholding of surplus profit need not have been so 
extortionate. When the breakthrough came, the capitalists 
had no intention of calling a halt; they wanted the ac- 
cumulation to go on forever, to their own undoing and 
that of society. Their kind is still with us, an unteachable, 
irreclaimable minority; they are the blind troglodytes 
who fought the New Deal at every step and, ragingly im- 
potent to nullify it, will continue to fight its extension. 
(To use an Irishism: there are some people who will not 
thank you for saving their lives until they are dead.) But 
if they are a minority today, that is due to the socialist 
movement and its wide peripheral influence; and if the 
socialist movement is everywhere in decline, it is because 
the creative changes it has forced through have outdated it. 
What a scurvy trick history has played on the Commu- 
nists, and no wonder they loathe the socialist movement 
with a convulsive loathing. It was their original hope to step 
in where the capitalists had done all the dirty work and take 
over as angelic liberators. But, being able to seize power 
only in pre-capitalist countries, they are forced to do their 
own dirty work, and they are doing it no better than the 
early capitalist commissars. No, they are not doing it as 
well; they are forcing the pace even more brutally, and 
they have repressed the inventiveness and resourcefulness 
of individual competitive greed. 



I remember with even greater admiration the socialist- 
Zionists who, under infinitely difficult conditions, pre- 
vented the nascent Jewish homeland from developing into 
an early-capitalist exploitative state based on cheap labor. 
Israel would not have its place among the world democ- 
racies had it not been for the primitive kvutzot, the later 
kibbutzim (it is well to note that this word is now inter- 
national), and the workers' co-operatives. In Israel, too, 
the socialist movement has completed its mission. The 
labor leaders of Israel still call themselves socialists, but it 
is an honorific title; they have no program for universal 
nationalization. The kibbutzim themselves are becoming 
village corporations with equality for all members, a 
decent form of life which somehow, to the distress of the 
"socialist" leaders, is not spreading. And in America the 
socialist-Zionist movement which is committed to the sup- 
port of "socialist" Israel is entirely middle class. 

What remains in me of my one-time socialism? Only 
the moral element and a certain, informed alertness to 
capitalist hypocrisies and dodges. My social philosophy 
is an amalgam of what my rebbe and the Prophets (it is a 
long time since I have winced at "the word of God") taught 
me and what I have read, from my youth onward, in leftist 
books, including Karl Marx and Engels. I am what Com- 
munists call a "reformist" and a "rotten liberal." My views 
on the techniques of social amelioration come from a lay- 
man's acquaintance with economics, history, psychology, 
etc. My instincts are with the worker as against the em- 
ployer simply because the employer is as a rule better off. 
But I no longer believe, as I used to, that the worker is 
always right vis-a-vis the employer; and I am grateful that 
workers have now improved their condition to the point 
where they can sometimes be in the wrong. 

I also brought out of the poverty of my childhood and 



youth, and out of later economic hardship, a distaste for 
rich people, though, like the anti-Semite with regard to 
Jews, I make exceptions. Some of my best friends . . . Also 
a distaste for expensively elegant women and women who 
like to have men spend money on them, either from 
greediness or as a lift to their vanity. I could never afford 
their company, which I would not accept as charity. I 
have no pleasure in posh hotels and restaurants. Most of all 
I dislike "easy spenders" — who are seldom easy givers; they 
show a contempt for money out of excessive deference to it; 
they stand treat to those who have no need of it because 
they want to be appreciated "on a higher plane." And that 
contempt of theirs for money is in more ways than one a 
contempt for human beings — for the careworn who must 
watch their pennies, for the fools who are impressed by 
easy spending. Easy spending and easy giving are psycho- 
logically as well as arithmetically in conflict; an easy 
spender wants to be surrounded by good humor and good 
fellowship, the sight of misery upsets him without moving 

I often wish I could have talked all these things over 
with my rebbe, Kalman Moskovitch. It is not unlikely that 
if I had argued with him from the moral postulates he 
taught rather than as a "scientific" socialist, we would have 
found much in common; but the only time I saw him after 
I left Manchester was not propitious for leisurely discus- 

It was in 1929, in Palestine, as it was then called, two 
days after the bloody anti-Jewish riots of that year. On 
August 25 I set out with Colonel Frederick Kisch, the 
Palestine Chairman of the Jewish Agency, on a tour of the 
cities and settlements. I had put on my old American uni- 



form, hoping to impress, if not intimidate, any Arabs we 
might encounter on the road, and we carried revolvers. We 
went north from Jerusalem, visited Beth Alpha and Heph- 
zibah, the two little kibbutzim at the foot of Mount Gilboa 
that had stood off an Arab invasion of the Valley of Jezreel. 
Then we proceeded to Safad in Galilee, where a number of 
old people had been murdered. 

I knew that my rebbe had settled some years before in 
that ancient and sacred city of the Cabbalists, and when I 
asked Colonel Kisch whether we might not spend ten min- 
utes looking for him, so that I might send a message to 
Manchester, he readily agreed. 

We found him in one of the narrow, crooked, sloping 
alleys on whose gray, crumbling walls centuries of Jewish 
learning, piety, poverty, and Messianic conjuration are al- 
most visibly encrusted. When he came to the door I recog- 
nized him at once, though his beard was now completely 
snow-white. He stared at me, puzzled, until I said, in my 
recently acquired Sephardic Hebrew — a pronunciation he 
would associate with Christian priests: ''Rebbe, eincha 
makir oti — don't you recognize me?" Then his eyes 
brimmed over, he uttered a loud cry, and answered in 
Yiddish (for like all religious Jews in those days he reserved 
Hebrew only for prayer and study): "Moishe! Redst takke 
loshen koidesh, ober fort vi a goy — you do indeed speak 
Hebrew, but it's still like a gentile!" 


® 51 ® 





TEP BY STEP over the years Manchester has receded, 
not from my affections but from my sense of reality, and 
all that was in it has undergone a change into another 
incarnation. Visit by visit I have seen faces age, and one by 
one disappear: parents, uncles, cousins, a friend here, an- 
other there. New faces have come up in swarms, nephews, 
nieces, grandnephews, grandnieces, and I have long since 
lost count. Yes, yes, I too have become a grandfather, but I 
did it openly, while they did it behind my back; I did it 
naturally and imperceptibly, while they did it in stealthy 
leaps and bounds. I appear on the scene at intervals, be- 
longing less and less, more and more a historical oddity, 
the vague one who went away to America a long, long time 
ago. I am an indeterminate identity to the young, a subject 
of occasional unurgent questions: "Was Great Uncle Joe his 
brother or his cousin?" (My brother Joe, nine years my 
junior, died in his wonderful manhood in 1949. I date my 
old age from his death.) I am reintroduced or introduced 
for the first time to little strangers and half-strangers whose 
fleeting curiosity is a forecast of the oblivion awaiting my 
name; they move me to confused reflections, for this one 
has my father's chin, that one my mother's eyes, and a third 
my ears — floating fragments of the dead and near-dead 


handed down by the genes in a sure but anonymous and 
fragmentated immortality. I feel my limbs, my organs, and 
my physical peculiarities being shuffled out into the future, 
a pack of cards mixed with other packs. 

They hardly know me and they know not at all that 
Manchester world in which I grew up. They are neither 
immigrants nor the children of immigrants, but second- 
generation English. Their parents are well-to-do — we 
would have called the poorest of them rich. Education? 
They can't imagine not going to high school and perhaps 
university, scholarships or no scholarships. Rumania means 
less to them than Italy to third-generation American- 
Italians. The Lower Strangeways of my childhood and 
youth is almost equally alien territory to them, a shattered 
and battered slum through which they pass rapidly on visits 
between the upper- and middle-class areas they live in — 
Didsbury, Higher and Lower Broughton, Prestwich. It was 
in decline, with little room to decline in, even before the 
Second World War; now, half obliterated by bombings and 
meanly restored here and there, it speaks to me in a voice 
made intelligible only by love, like an old and indigent 
friend who has lost his teeth and wears a cheap, ill-fitting 
artificial set. The one glory of Old Strangeways, the Assize 
Court, vast, black, magnificent, a sooty Moses perched in 
precarious majesty on its tower, holding two sooty Tablets 
of the Law — that terrifying many-turreted palace which 
judges entered from horse-drawn carriages announced by 
scarlet-coated trumpeters — is, or was on my last visit, a 
roofless shell, though the ugly jail behind it is still in busi- 
ness. Delphiniums grew for several years on the vacant lots 
now covered again by repulsive little structures. Lower 
down on Strangeways the side and back streets remain, 
with some changes: Norfolk, mostly gaps (one is where our 
house stood, at number 5), Suffolk, Bedford, Trafalgar 



(sudden and incongruous bravura!), Choir, Enid, Perkins, 
Melbourne, Broughton Lane. What have my grand- 
nephews and grandnieces to do with that blighted wilder- 
ness, and what can they imagine of the forebears who in- 
habited it half a century ago? Only I, a revenant, poke 
around periodically, finding fewer and fewer living traces. 
Rosenberg's butcher shop is still there — what a handsome 
man he was, with his Napoleon III beard, more like a 
noble killer of men on the grand scale than a retail pur- 
veyor of animal carcasses — but of course he is long dead, 
and when I intruded to ask about his son Ruby, with 
whom I went to school, I found that he too was dead. 
Gordon's fruit and vegetable shop is still there, and the 
Brunswick pub, but where is old white-whiskered Maude, 
the shoemaker's supply man? And Saunder's and Wag- 
staffe's toffee shop, kept by two twittering old maiden 
ladies given to amateur recitations, is gone, too. Pincu's 
barbershop went long before, in my time, when he ran 
away from his wife and family to America, shortly before 
the one-eyed book-and-prayer-shawl dealer stole a bride's 
dowry (twenty gold pounds!) and disappeared without a 

We came from a country still largely medieval. Well-to- 
do Rumanians in the larger towns were no doubt nearer to 
the nineteenth century, but my parents knew nothing of 
coal fires and gaslights, which they approached in Man- 
chester with amazement and uneasiness, coaxed into their 
use by blase and much-amused relatives who had preceded 
them by several months. In Rumania we had burned 
penkes (faggots) in an iron stove in the middle of the room, 
not clumps of black stone in a hollow in the wall behind a 
grating. A kerosene lamp was a natural thing, an infiam- 



mable metal tube sticking out of the wall smelled of witch- 
craft. We clung to the lamp even after we had become 
familiar with gas, and I used to be sent out after a penny- 
worth of "lamp oil" at a time. The greasy feel of the bottle, 
which I clutched to my bosom for fear of dropping it, is 
still in my fingers, its smell is still in my nostrils. But you 
could do things with the lamp that you couldn't do with 
the gas bracket; you could stand it on the table on which 
father could lay the Yiddish newspaper or magazine or 
book supplied by the one-eyed dealer, and we could cluster 
round and listen, entranced, in an intimate circle. 

We clung to other primitive usages brought out of 
Rumania; in the preparation of coffee, for instance. My 
father was a great coffee drinker, and he took it a la turque, 
highly concentrated and highly sweetened. Coffee was not 
a brown powder that came in cans; it was green beans that 
came in bags. We roasted and ground it ourselves. The 
roaster was a hollow metal cylinder a foot in length and a 
hand's-breadth across. It revolved on an axis that pro- 
truded at one end in a sharp point and at the other in a 
long handle. You stuck the point into a chink at the back of 
the fireplace, and you turned the handle with the right 
hand while you held the axis in the hollow of your left. 
The coffee beans rattled above the glowing coals, a deli- 
cious odor was wafted from the roaster. Every so often you 
pulled it away, opened the sliding door with a rag, and 
peeped in. When the beans had acquired the right shade 
of black-brown you poured them into a basin to cool. 
When you were done with the roasting you poured the 
beans a cupful at a time into the grinder, another cylinder, 
smaller, narrower, heavier, of yellow brass. You held that 
between your knees, gripping it with the left hand and 
turning the wooden handle with the right. What a busi- 
ness! It must have taken a couple of hours to prepare half 



a pound of coffee, and I don't know how many thousands 
of man-hours, as they call it, were expended in the Samuel 
household before we surrendered to prepared coffee. Ex- 
cept for the coffee a la turque, we drank it heavily mixed 
with chicory. I used to think it a necessary ingredient, and 
missed it when I left home. I only realized later that the 
chicory was an adulterant put in for reasons of economy. 

The roaster and grinder we brought with us from 
Rumania, like the family candlesticks. We also brought 
along a wooden bowl to chop meat in and a small chopper. 
Meat grinders were already in general use, and Rosenberg 
the butcher may have had one. If he did, my mother turned 
from it as Uncle Berel turned from the pressing machine. 
It wasn't right not to do the work yourself, or to delegate 
it to an outlandish machine that hadn't the human touch, 
and this applied particularly to the chopped liver for the 
festive Sabbath meal on Friday evenings. Mother chopped 
on other days too, I suppose, but the sound of a pious 
chopping in a wooden bowl haunts my memory of Friday 
afternoons, a ghostly tattoo which speaks sometimes of a 
lost world and sometimes of superfluous labors added to 
the unavoidable drudgery which went into the care of a 
household of eight. 

These objects and customs brought from Rumania were 
accompanied by others which were not without their par- 
allels among our gentile neighbors in enlightened Man- 
chester. My mother suffered cruelly from gallstones and 
jaundice. The idea of an operation terrified her; she took 
all kinds of medicaments, some, including Karlsbad water 
— of which she drank innumerable bottles — prescribed by 
doctors, others, unknown to the pharmacopoeia, prescribed 
by charwomen, one of whom, I remember, was represented 
by her colleague as an authority on "the janders." Years 
later I realized that her specialty was jaundice. Twice my 



father managed to send my mother to Karlsbad, on the 
suggestion of the doctors that if she drank the waters 
straight from the well, instead of from bottles, she would 
be cured. This was in later, more affluent years, when my 
father had a shoeshop; still, it entailed a great financial 
effort; between that and doctors' and druggists' bills he 
struggled along and might have managed but for two weak- 
nesses, one for extending credit indiscriminately, the other 
for cosigning loans. My mother had a whole collection of 
Rumanian folk remedies, among which were a paste made 
from bird droppings and a stocking soaked in urine and 
laid across the throat; what these were specifics for I do not 

My father was a victim of lumbago. He, too, consulted 
doctors and quacks impartially. In Rumania he once un- 
derwent a grisly cure; on the advice of a peasant acquain- 
tance he had himself enclosed naked in the freshly split 
carcass of a cow. He always wore a tight band of red cloth 
round his waist, and since it was always slipping, he would 
rewind it two or three times a day, performing a slow and 
stately circular dance in his long underwear. He must have 
been told that a supporting belt would give him more 
relief, but he would not forego his cummerbund. 

Our home cooking, like that of the other homes in our 
group, was as Rumanian-Jewish as it could be made in the 
new surroundings. Mammaligge we had when corn meal 
was available; kachkeval, the real rank kind, was a rare 
event. The other dishes so beloved of Uncle Berel were 
somewhat more frequent, but still for festive occasions 
only. We had meat twice a week; gefillte fish, chopped liver 
and chicken, were mandatory for the Sabbath eve, and the 
meal was always topped off by a dessert of carrots boiled 
with honey and raisins. Chicken goes together in my mind 
with Friday-night candles and, by later association, with 



Zionist banquets and a dessert of long speeches. Hollishkes 
— chopped meat and rice wrapped in cabbage leaves and 
boiled sour-sweet — were my mother's specialty. It is a 
Rumanian-Hungarian dish. Our rossel was a variant of the 
universal meat-and-vegetable dish, nearer to an Irish stew 
than to a goulash. A great standby was fiocke-eeta (as we 
pronounced it: a Rumanian Jewish scientist at the Weiz- 
mann Institute has kindly supplied me with the correct 
spelling, facaluiete, which makes no impression on me); 
it consisted of boiled mashed kidney beans covered with a 
dark sauce and burnt onions. It tasted "loovly," as they say 
in Lancashire, and had the consistency of plaster of Paris 
just before it sets; one could count on it to lie on the 
stomach pleasantly until the next day. For the rest, we had 
cheese, olives, onions, and lots of bread. When melon was 
obtainable, melon and bread was a meal; rye bread with 
garlic rubbed into the crust, or white bread with halva, was 
also considered a meal. If you had enough bread you only 
needed the tzimbroit, the with-bread. 

Uncle Berel imposed himself on my childhood memories 
by his renewal of them when I came to America, and his 
thoughtful Tartar face is superimposed on mammaligge 
and karnatzlech and beigalech and katchkeval. The Ru- 
mania my parents spoke of so frequently fuses with Uncle 
Berel and his cronies in the restaurant of New York's East 
Side. Buhush, Glodorlui, Fokoshan, Podoturk, Barlad, 
Yasse, Braila, the towns and villages which colonized my 
Manchester world were never forgotten by us, either. 
There were some who had long spasms of homesickness till 
the end; my father was one of them, and he would dream 
of resettling among the scenes of his brilliant military 
career. There was much in England he never became 
reconciled to, and English cigarettes were high on the list. 
He was a passionate smoker, though smoking was forbid- 



den him, and he choked on Woodbines, which were five 
for a penny. In exceptionally good weeks he treated himself 
to half an ounce of Rumanian tobacco and a booklet of 
Rumanian cigarete paper; I can't imagine where he got 
them. The cigarette paper was called Dorobantul, manu- 
factured by the Fratelli Braunstein of Braila, and on the 
cover was the magnificent colored picture of a hussar. What 
with his nostalgia for the good old times and his fixation on 
Rumanian tobacco, my father actually returned to Ru- 
mania at the age of fifty-eight, alone; within six months he 
was back in Manchester. It was no longer the same place, 
and if it had been, he was no longer the same man; perhaps 
even the tobacco didn't taste as it once had, at the source. 
My mother, however, had all of Uncle Berel's loathing of 
Rumania: she did not even sentimentalize about it. 

My father was a disciplinarian with a passion for clean- 
liness and order. His favorite word — he uttered it sternly, 
an army command — ^was Curitzenye (cleanliness)! In our 
first Manchester home, in Norfolk Street, there was no bath 
when we moved in, and my mother used to bathe the chil- 
dren Saturday nights in a tub before the fire (only recently 
did the question occur to me: where and when did my 
parents bathe?). As soon as he could scrape up the money, 
my father had a bath and boiler installed. Almost as badly 
as Rumanian tobacco he missed the steam baths which the 
Jewish community had maintained in Macheen, together 
with a ritual bath for the women, near the synagogue. I 
remember the steam bath well, with its wooden tiers and 
clouds of steam, with men ascending the tiers Adam-naked, 
smiting each other with willow withes and shouting glee- 
fully in unnatural voices while the peasant attendant 
dashed bucket after bucket of water on the red-hot stones 
below, so that the steam came hissing up in wild burst after 
burst. It recurs to me as a vaguely symbolic scene, half 



apocalyptic, half quaint, half William Blake, half Marc 
Chagall. I stayed at ground level, which was hot enough 
for me, envious of and terrified by the berserk hardihood 
of the grown-ups. 

I got along badly with my father, and reconciliation 
came only after I had left home. The long letters he wrote 
me in 1923-24 were not only his life history but his apolo- 
gia, as were mine to him. I had by then learned to admire 
the elemental strength of his character, and his autobiog- 
raphy confirmed my admiration with many vivid details. 

He had run away from his native village of Glodorlui 
and a harsh stepmother at the age of eight or nine. (Leav- 
ing the village at dawn, he had paused at the top of a hill, 
lowered his trousers, squatted, and cried: "Glodorlui, kiss 
my ass!") He had wandered and starved among strangers, 
falling in with mendicants and criminals such as Mendelle 
Mocher Sforim, the grandfather of modern Yiddish litera- 
ture, describes in his Fishke the Cripple, the scum of the 
Jewish world. (I did not know in my boyhood and youth 
that there was a Jewish criminal class; occasional male- 
factors, yes, like Pincu the barber and the absconding 
bookseller, but not a class.) He somehow got himself 
apprenticed to a shoemaker, who instead of teaching him 
the craft turned him into a household slavey. He found 
another employer, who taught him but swindled him out 
of his pay. He found a third and a fourth — he seems to 
have been as set on becoming a shoemaker as I have been 
on becoming a writer. In one letter he described how, 
being in rags, he stole a pair of trousers and ran off, was 
pursued, caught, stripped, and left half naked in a snow- 
covered field. In spite of the kindness he found now and 
again, it is almost beyond me that he did not turn into an 
irreclaimable criminal. It all happened nearly a hundred 
years ago (and in another land; besides, the man is dead), 



but my stomach turns over when I think o£ the little boy 
who was to become my father begging a piece of bread at 
strange doors, sleeping in the open or on bare floors, and 
guarding through it all the original gift of his integrity. I 
have called him dour, and he was; yet he had his expansive 
moods, when he loved to read aloud to the family. I was 
unjust to him; all of us were; it is some consolation that 
we reached an understanding before the end. 

He came of an enormous family, the partial records of 
which I have put together from what he told me and from 
later encounters with brothers and cousins of his in France, 
America, and Israel. His father, a widower with several 
children, married a widow by the name of Kossover, also 
with several children, and several more were born of the 
marriage. In French they call it enfants de trois lits, in 
Yiddish "mine, yours, and ours." I have a list of thirteen. 
The original family name was Weissbuch, but an older 
brother of father's, Tuli (Julius), having evaded conscrip- 
tion and being on the run, came to Macheen for a while 
and changed his name to Samuel. My father, to help him 
out, followed suit, with the result that my oldest brother, 
who had been "christened" Samuel, went through life like 
an echo. My father's paternal grandfather, the terminal of 
my researches, was called Naphthali, and by transposition 
of the Hebrew letters, Pantoul. He was a bee-keeper, and 
in his old age went to die in Palestine, settling in one of 
four sacred cities, whether Jerusalem, Tiberias, Hebron, 
or Safad (my rehbe's retreat), I have not been able to find 
out. There are legends that, rejuvenated by the Holy Land, 
he married again and begat numerously, like Abraham of 
old after the death of Sarah; but what he left behind in 
Rumania, namely, my father's father and my father's uncles 
and aunts, seems to have equaled, whether by one or more 
marriages, my own grandfather's tripartite household. 



Among my father's Rumanian-Jewish contemporaries 
in Manchester many did not get beyond a rudimentary 
command of English. My father rejected the language al- 
most in toto, and what he acknowledged he subjected to 
dictatorial transformations. For Trafalgar Street he said 
Interfolger, for Mazeppa Moozet'n, for Enid Heener. He 
used to send me to Maude's shoemaker supply shop for 
neintzigshteel shmoolerletz: nails, nine sixteenths, small 
heads. Here and there I perceive a clue to the principle 
behind the transformation. Heener is Yiddish for hens, 
neintzig means ninety, shmool, narrow, and letz a clown, or 
a kobold; but Interfolger and Moozet'n and shteel hang in 
the air. He heard us children sing "London Bridge Is 
Falling Down" and reissued it as Unterdebikl svorendak. 
It was useless to correct him, for that was what he seemed 
to hear no matter how pedantically we chopped the words 
into syllables for him. Boodegaren was his version of Board 
of Guardians (a free-loan institution) till the end of his 
days; he may have been assimilating it to Bulgaren — Bul- 

Sometimes he fell back on plain Yiddish. A shilling was 
a herdel, a little beard, because of the likeness of Edward 
VII on many of the coins; a gold sovereign was a jerdel, a 
little horse, because of St. George mounted and slaying the 
dragon. Thus a guinea (a pound plus a shilling, no longer 
coined or in circulation, but still widely used in pricing) 
became, attractively enough, a jerdel mit a herdel, a horselet 
with a beardlet; but a sixpenny piece (half a shilling, col- 
loquially a "tanner") remained substantially English 
though modified by a Yiddish diminitive suffix into a 
sixpensel. The charming and exotic florin (the two-shilling 
piece), which few Englishmen connect with Dante's birth- 
place, my father ignored; for the plural of shilling he re- 
verted to his private English: shillakkes: beardlets would 



have been too suggestive of a congregation. Into certain 
transformations he put a touch of derision and parody: 
shillakkes was one of them. More understandably, he 
pointed up the absurdity of "key," phonetically the Ru- 
manian Yiddish for cow, and since our house key hung on 
a string behind the front door, and my father could not 
bring himself to imply that one could open a door with an 
ordinary cow, it was always die kih mit'n shtrik, the cow 
with the string. There was, however, no mockery in fallink 
(short flat a, accentuated) for farthing, the smallest English 
coin, worth one half of a ha'penny, now discontinued. 

During our first year in Manchester my father's earnings 
were small and, though supplemented by my brother 
Mendel's (who never went to an English school and never- 
theless developed a taste for the best in English literature), 
kept us on a bare subsistence level. In the second year my 
oldest brother, Sam, came on from Rumania, where he had 
been left for lack of fare, and with three workers in the 
house it was a little easier. But Mendel and Sam were, 
respectively, eleven and fourteen years old when they 
arrived in Manchester, and the total income cannot have 
been, at first, more than two pounds ten shillings a week. 
There were seven of us to feed and clothe, and when my 
brother Joe was born in 1904, eight. In their later teens my 
older brothers made good money as clothing machinists, 
and my father saved up for a shoeshop. My twin sister 
Hannah, my younger sister, Dora, and Joe the baby, were 
not helpful until much later. 

Two pounds ten a week, even for a family of eight, was 
somewhat above slum average in England at the turn of the 
century. But we had special calls on our income: the 
cheder, kosher food, which cost more, the Passover celebra- 
tion, with its own expensive dietary demands, the syna- 
gogue seats for the High Holy Days. There was a 



quasi-religious injunction to buy the children new clothes 
for Passover and the New Year; we were better dressed 
than our gentile schoolmates. We gave more to charity (this 
I learned later); here and there a wandering beggar, now 
and again a collection for Russian pogrom victims; there 
were Rabbi Meir the Wonderworker's collection boxes for 
saintly scholars in the Holy Land, and the blue-white boxes 
of the Jewish National Fund for the redemption of the 
Holy Soil. It was unthinkable not to contribute something 
toward the dowry of an orphan bride; and then there were 
immigrant relatives — sixpences, shillings, and even half- 

My mother was more generous than my father, but my 
father gave beyond our means without really wanting to. 
I have referred to his habit of cosigning loans right and 
left; he never learned from experience, and it was not 
unusual for him to be paying off for six or seven defaulters 
at a time; the sums were considerable, anywhere from 
three to five pounds. My rebbe undertook, at my mother's 
tearful prompting, to speak to my father, and he pointed 
to the text of the Book of Proverbs: "My son, if thou be 
surety for thy friend, if thou hast stricken thy hand with a 
stranger, thou art snared with the words of thy mouth . . . 
thou shalt smart for it." But my father was never cured of 
this ancient and not wholly dishonorable weakness. 

A heavy charge on our resources was snobbery. The 
dread of being thought poorer than we were made us 
poorer still, though this is not a specifically Jewish afflic- 
tion. Outside of misers, mendicants, saints, and other ex- 
ceptional cases, everyone wants to be thought better off 
than he is. It was our Jewish misfortune that we had more 
indices of status than our gentile neighbors; our advantage 
over them was our abstemiousness. No one in our circle 
was a frequenter of pubs, and we drank, sparingly enough, 



only on festive occasions. We played cards, not for money; 
also Lotto (imported from Rumania), which has recently 
become an international vogue, if not an epidemic, under 
the name of Bingo. 

Let me add that if our charity was not free from exhibi- 
tionism, its foundation was nevertheless compassion. Char- 
ity is enjoined equally on Jews and Christians, but Jews 
for various reasons have developed the virtue to a higher 
degree. The Jewish Biblical text runs: "If thine enemy be 
hungry, give him bread to eat; if he be thirsty, give him 
water to drink" (Proverbs). The operative strength of the 
tradition among Jews is brought out by a curious Yiddish 
curse: "May you some day be in want and come to me for 
help and find me destitute" — i.e., "I know I'll obey the 
law and yield to pity if I only can; I'd rather be starving 

My mother must originally have had an iron constitu- 
tion to live on, as she did, to the age of seventy-two, sur- 
viving my father by eight years; but her latter years were 
much lightened by improvement in family circumstances. 
She was of a deeply pious nature, and though she could not 
always prevent us from drinking milk after a meat dish 
(forbidden by the dietary law), she never permitted un- 
kosher food to enter the house. However, she did not go so 
far as to keep two sets of dishes for meat and milk meals. 
She taught all her children the morning prayer which must 
be recited as soon as one opens one's eyes, the Moidie 
Annie, as she pronounced it, praising God for returning 
our souls to us after the night's sleep. She did not know 
what the Hebrew words meant, neither of course did I. I 
long wondered who "Moidie Annie" and "Beany Shmussy" 
were, and discovered in due course that the first was, in 
Sephardic Hebrew, modeh ani, "I acknowledge," and the 
second hi nishmati, "in me my soul." This was followed 



by a Yiddish prayer, in which we undertook to do any good 
thing that good and pious people asked of us. 

I need hardly say that my mother never failed to bless 
the candles on the Sabbath eve, first spreading a fresh white 
cover on the table. That gesture of the circling hands with 
which she gathered in the light and carried it to her eyes, 
and the accompanying prayer uttered in a mysterious 
whisper, come back to me powerfully. So does the Passover, 
which was observed with most of the minutiae: the sym- 
bolic cleaning out of the last traces of leaven with brush, 
shovel, and taper, the renewal of the household — a thor- 
ough spring cleaning — the complicated, charming, and 
exciting ritual of the seder (a religious family Feast of Lib- 
eration filled with symbol and song — and good things to 
eat) on the first two evenings, the replacement of bread by 
matzoth for the prescribed period of eight days. Most 
powerful of all has been the effect of the Rosh Hashanah 
and the Yom Kippur, the New Year and the Day of Atone- 
ment. I chafed at having to stay at my father's side in the 
synagogue for hours at a stretch, but when the ram's horn 
was blown I trembled with awe and wonder. Not that the 
sound itself was necessarily imposing — the ^/lo/ar-blower 
was often less than adept — but something passed through 
the little synagogue, a hint of mystery and of immeasurable 
stretches of time. A sound of weeping went up from the 
women's gallery, where my mother sat, and when she came 
home red-eyed and kissed us children, and I mumbled 
shyly to her in the traditional formula — or as near as I 
could get to it in my faulty Yiddish: "May your prayers 
have brought you a good year" — my heart was wrung. I do 
not doubt that later experience has thrown back on those 
seasons and festivals an emotional response which was 
weaker in my childhood, but a response was there and im- 
bedded itself in me. It is a common observation that the 



rituals of self-identification which Jews abandon last are 
those of the New Year and the Day of Atonement, and the 
saying of the Kaddish, or Sanctification, on the anniversary 
of a father's or a mother's death. 

My mother, whose dream it was that I would some day 
become what she called Kreiserrahbiner (she meant Kreis- 
rahhiner, chief rabbi of a district, but confused Kreis with 
Kaiser), was more religiously inclined than any of her rela- 
tives or acquaintances, though I do not remember a single 
non-religious family in our circle. Neither were there any 
outstanding pietists, except for my mother's father — an 
unexpected development, I was told, of his extreme old 
age. My father had lapsed into average piety from a higher 
standard in Rumania, where I remember him donning the 
phylacteries and prayer shawl at home. At sundown on 
Friday he laid aside his last and his tools, and covered his 
workbench in the front room with a cloth, which he did 
not remove until Sunday morning. Throughout the Sab- 
bath he used to refrain from smoking, according to the law, 
and I used to wonder how he did it. I drew on memories 
of my father for the portrayal of the Ebionite rabbi-shoe- 
maker in my novel The Second Crucifixion. Their char- 
acters were very different, but certain behavior patterns 
were the same; so, I am sure, were some of the techniques 
of their craft. 

My mother was a woman of strong natural intelligence, 
and I loved to sit and chat with her, letting her do most of 
the talking. She understood people, and had sensitive views 
on right and wrong, on the becoming and the unbecoming. 
She had a meditative, even philosophical strain. I remem- 
ber how, late one Friday night, when she thought she was 
alone in the room, she apostrophized the dying candles, 
and likened their spluttering to the protest of human 
beings summoned by death. "Vus tzankt ihr azoi, lechtlech, 



why do you bicker so, little candles? Will it help you at all? 
Had you been made longer, you would burn longer, 
but some candles are born short and some are born long, 
and God made some lives long, some short." So Sholom 
Aleichem's Tevye the Dairyman might have spoken; and 
I was again reminded of my mother when I read Marcus 
Aurelius many year later: "Why do you protest that your 
life is not longer than it is? You might as well protest that 
you are not taller than you are." 

wShe was fond of the folk phrase: "Long as the Jewish 
exile"; "My troubles are long, long as the Jewish exile." 
One of her favorite songs came from a Goldfaden opera: 

While the ears of wheat are tender. 
Young and light and short and slender, 
While the ears of wheat are tender. 

They are safe always; 
The wind cannot take hold to shake them. 
Nor the raging storm to break them. 
The wind cannot take hold to shake them, 

In their youthful days. 
But with time grown heavy-weighted. 
To destruction they are fated. 

The song is a parable of man, and also of the Jewish 
people; it is a warning against luxury and pride and pos- 
session, though it seems to contain a certain fatalism: can 
the grain help ripening? Another of Goldfaden's arias, also 
a favorite with my mother, was less involved, and preached 
the same lesson. 

A shepherd lived in days of old. 

Of Abram's holy seed; 
And prospering in field and fold. 

He learned the sin of greed. 



So turning from his shepherd's trade 
He sought the mart where gold is made 

And lost his home and land; 
Then beggared, racked by hunger's pains. 
He sold himself to toil in chains 

Beneath the oppressor's hand. 

(The translation is free, and lacks the folk simplicity of the 

The theme of merited exile runs through the Jewish 
folklore of two thousand years: Biblical in origin, filling 
the Yiddish phase of Jewish life, echoing a remote, happy, 
forfeited past. 

In Manchester, as in Macheen, my mother had little op- 
portunity to indulge her girlhood love of the theater. A 
Yiddish strolling company came at long intervals to play in 
the Derby Street Jewish Workingmen's Hall, but the 
cheapest seats were sixpence, in the rear. She found a kind 
of substitute in my father's readings, at which I too was an 
enthralled listener. 

The closing circle of memory connects again with ex- 
periences long forgotten and reveals how much more they 
did for me than I was aware of for a time. The reading 
sessions were held irregularly, being dependent on the 
arrival of new material at the bookseller's — periodicals and 
books, mostly from America. There were novels by 
Shomer, an immensely popular hack, but also stories by the 
living classics, Sholom Aleichem, Yal Peretz, and Mendelle 
Mocher Sforim. My father would hold forth and we would 
listen, moveless, enchanted, to whatever had come to his 
hand, infantile trash or first-rate literature. For the ritual 
had its own beloved appeal. It was escape and sublimation; 
our surroundings faded away together with our personal 
worries; we were in other lands, other ages, tasting the 
luxury of sympathies which entailed no obligations. 



The ecstasy with which I listened was heightened by the 
terror of finding myself suddenly thrust out of the circle. 
The sessions lasted late into the night, and if my presence 
was detected after ten o'clock I would be packed off in- 
stantly — there was no nonsense with my father — and then 
I felt as though I were being thrust not only out of the 
circle but out of life and into my grave. Oh, how bitter it 
was to know that the fascinating story was continuing to 
weave itself under the lamplight while I, for my alleged 
youthfulness — and suppose there was a certain speciousness 
in the allegation, was this the time to bring it up? — re- 
mained in dark ignorance, and would never, never know 
how it all came out. I could of course ask my mother the 
next day, but that would have been useless; her version 
never jibed with mine. They were in fact different stories, 
the one she followed and the one I built up for myself as 
I listened to my father's voice. The very titles of the books 
had a special content for me. 

One of them, by Shomer, was Groisfierst Constantin, 
and the sound of it was as majestic as it was unintelligible. 
I knew that grois meant big, but fierst was a blank, and I 
did not know that Constantin was a man's name. I im- 
agined a giant of some kind engaged in mysterious move- 
ments and holding impenetrable conversations with beings 
as mysterious as himself. I would try, while falling sadly 
asleep, to continue the story for myself, but, outside the 
circle of the lamplight and beyond the reach of my father's 
voice, my inventiveness went dead. 

A long time afterwards it dawned on me that Groisfierst 
Constantin meant only Grand Duke Constantine, and the 
magic went out of the title. 

Another novel of Shomer's which my father read out to 
us was called Der Reicher Betler, The Rich Beggarman. I 
knew what each word meant separately, but the combina- 
tion was a challenge to my imagination. The fantastic in- 



dividual it denoted presented himself to me in two forms. 
In the first he was actually a mendicant, going from door to 
door with his burlap sack, unaware that he was rich; as I 
saw it, his true condition was being concealed from him by 
a magician. I thought of him also as an echo of King Solo- 
mon, who became a wandering beggar when his likeness 
and his throne were both usurped by the demon Asmodeus, 
his inveterate enemy. In the second form (which, I later 
discovered, was the right guess), he was a rich man who, 
after an absence of many years, returned to his native vil- 
lage pretending abject poverty in order to test his relatives 
and friends. The second form was my favorite, because I 
could more easily project myself into the role; at some 
future date I would, after a similar absence from home, 
take revenge on my father by showering him with unex- 
pected riches, heaping coals of fire on his head, never even 
mentioning his heartlessness in ordering me to bed in the 
middle of a reading. 

Many words and episodes connected with those readings 
made permanent places for themselves in dormant memory 
cells, and their emergence into consciousness depended on 
chance, above all the chance that I would turn back to 
Jewish things. And perhaps this was not chance at all, but 
a ripening in darkness and an inevitable pushing through 
to the light, and chance only in the sense that we remain 
alive by chance. 


® 71 ® 


The Clan 


Y FATHER was the only member of his family to 
settle in Manchester. The others who left Rumania — they 
were counted in the dozens over the years, some under the 
original name of Weissbuch, others under the adopted 
name of Samuel — scattered in all directions. I met two 
Weissbuch uncles in Paris, one a fur dealer, the other a 
conductor on the International Wagons-Lits; and what an 
odd thing it was to have my own uncle punch my ticket 
when I made the trip from Paris to Warsaw in 1919. I met 
a cousin of my father, a Weissbuch, in Rochester, New 
York. He was a kindly well-to-do pawnbroker who had 
much to tell me about the past generations. There are 
Weissbuchs and Samuels in Florida and California, in 
Canada and Australia. Of many I have only the report. 
They are all descendants of old Pantoul, that great replen- 
isher of the earth. 

One large group stayed on in Rumania, and those that 
survived the Nazi occupation were ultimately caught in 
the Communist trap. A few managed to get out and found 
their way to Israel. I had not known them in person, nor 
had we ever communicated, and the circumstances under 
which we finally came together had all the improbability 
of a Hollywood fantasy. If the legends of old Pantoul's 


continuing fertility in the Holy Land have any foundation 
in fact, I may very well have made contact there with third 
and fourth cousins at various removes, but I have never 
identified one of them. 

My mother's family came to Manchester in full force, 
part of it moving on, as I have told, to America. I have a 
group photograph taken in 1902, in the squalid backyard 
of 5 Norfolk Street, on the occasion of my aunt Chaya's 
wedding, which was celebrated in our upstairs front room. 
Uncle Berel is in it, a billycock set jauntily on his head, a 
cigarette dangling from his lips. I am there with my twin 
sister Hannah and my younger sister Dora, in the front 
row, seated on the ground, and into my face only a Words- 
worth could have read trailing clouds of glory; I see instead 
a suggestion of the Mongoloid. All the older people are of 
course dead, so are most of the younger ones, and a good 
sprinkling of the infants. 

The venerable white-bearded figure near the center is 
my grandfather, who lived on another twenty-odd years 
into the nineties, some even saying a hundred. Neither he 
nor anyone else could speak with certainty, for there was 
no official record. Nor could there be, in his case, an appeal 
to the personal memories which served for my parents' 
generation in the absence of birth certificates. "Let me 
see," one would say. "I was brought to bed with Itzig when 
Malkah married. I remember it, so may God grant us all 
long and prosperous years, like yesterday, because I 
couldn't go to the wedding. And Leizer was born exactly 
eleven months after that; and if you want an absolutely 
infallible sign, Sarah the tinsmith's wife, may she rest in 
peace and busy herself in our behalf" — it used to trouble 
me that the dead were supposed to rest in peace and never- 
theless run about among the influential residents of Para- 
dise interceding for the living — "came to me right after the 



wedding and said — " To which the protocol reply would 
be: "God be with you, Fanny, you've surely taken leave of 
your senses. You're confusing Malkah's marriage with 
Mirel's, and for an absolutely infallible sign, you danced 
at Malkah's wedding, and Sarah the tinsmith's wife, may 
the mention of her name bring us long life, was there and 
said to me: 'Look at her, she's in the high months, may no 
harm befall her, and she dances like a young girl.' And I 
even told you at the time, and you answered: 'Let those 
that begrudge me my happiness dance not at weddings but 
with the fever.' Well, am I right?" Which would bring 
forth laughter and amazement: "/ danced at Malkah's 
wedding? May evil spirits dance on the heads of the ene- 
mies of our people." So it would go on amicably, to the 
enjoyment and edification of both sides, for this was part 
of the culture, the clan's oral chronicles, the "begats," what 
Thomas Mann in Joseph and His Brothers calls "fine 
talk," until the matter was settled, or rather dropped, each 
side brooding and looking for other confirmatory associa- 
tions to be cited when the subject came up again. But the 
limit of disagreement would usually be a year or two, 
whereas in my grandfather's case there was nothing to go 
on but rumors diverging by decades. To me he was of such 
inhuman antiquity that ten years either way made no dif- 

He lived, after grandmother's death, with Auntie Chaya, 
and was treated with touching respect by his son-in-law 
Leibu, or Leon. I would see him shuffling about the house, 
or down the street, and would try to avoid him because he 
never failed to ask me whether I had "davvened" (said my 
prayers) that morning. It was a rhetorical question; nobody 
in our circle, himself excepted, used to say the long morn- 
ing prayers, and he knew it. I used to think that he only 
wanted to embarrass me. Actually it was a form of greeting. 



Sometimes I saw him in Uncle Leon's warehouse on 
Upper Strangeways. He would wander among the crates 
picking up discarded pieces of string and tying them to- 
gether until, after a few months, he had a ball six inches 
or so across. As he went about this occupation, he would 
hum a synagogue melody, as if to sanctify his labors. Now 
and again he would stand still, contemplating a piece of 
string, trying, I supposed, to make up his mind whether it 
was worth saving. Uncle Leon would accept the completed 
ball gravely, saying: "Father-in-law, you really shouldn't 
put yourself out." And grandfather would answer: "You 
never can tell when a thing will come in useful." He spoke 
then as if from infinite depths of practical wisdom. 

He tried a few times to interest me — and no doubt 
others of his grandchildren — in his pious exercises, es- 
pecially after Uncle Leon had made him a wonderful 
present of a book which he had obtained from the one-eyed 
bookseller. It was a very fat book set in a great variety of 
types, here and there twenty lines of heavy, quarter-inch 
letters running across the page, and underneath them two 
or three columns in eighth- and tenth-inch type, here and 
there boxed inserts so tinily printed that I wondered how 
grandfather could read them even with the thick-lensed 
steel-rimmed spectacles which he balanced delicately on the 
hump of his bulbous nose. The large type was Hebrew, the 
smaller Yiddish; and grandfather would read a passage in 
Hebrew, then a passage in Yiddish from below. He did not 
understand Hebrew, and never knew whether the Yiddish 
was a translation of what he had just read in Hebrew; it 
might be a translation of an adjacent passage, or a com- 
mentator's interpolation, but he was moved by the sound 
of the Hebrew not less than by the meaning of the Yiddish. 
He read everything in the same doleful chant, following 
the text with a bony, hairy finger, and interrupting himself 
now and again with: "Gold! Precious as gold!" 



A few years ago I came across the book in America, and 
the title of it flashed back into my memory. It was the 
Korban Minchah (The Afternoon Temple Sacrifice), a 
devotional compilation of the daily and some of the festival 
prayers, The Ethics of the Fathers, The Book of Esther, 
The Song of Songs, and a variety of selections from the 
Midrashim and the later Musar (morality) writers, a true 
folk book with many ingenious as well as homely parables, 
with stories of saintly figures, admonitions against worldli- 
ness, warnings of hell fire, promises of heavenly bliss. The 
Yiddish is of a century ago in style and spelling, and it 
carried me back to grandfather's childhood, and set me 
thinking of the generations that had fashioned the lan- 
guage to their purpose. 

He once gave me, without knowing it, the fright of my 
life. I was passing by the privy in Aunt Chaya's yard (inside 
toilets came later in the family ascent, toilets in the bath- 
room still later) when I heard his voice from inside, raised 
in the familiar devotional lament: "Do you call this shi — 
ing? This isn't shi — ing at all! Merciful God, Lord of the 
Universe, take me away from this sinful world." It sounded 
so horrible that my knees almost gave way under me. Un- 
derstanding only the Yiddish words but not the condition 
they referred to, I thought that the old pietist had become 
insanely blasphemous. 

He was the old man of the tribe, with something terrible 
about him. He was like a lump of eternity. His memory 
went back to the days before there was a Rumanian king- 
dom, before there was a Carol on the throne, and at family 
gatherings he would smile into his beard when the others 
referred to themselves as "we older people." He was not 
wholly of their world, for he had been born in the Austrian 
city of Kolomea, and had come to Rumania as a young 
man. He had therefore undergone two uprootings in his 
life, and the second one, which took place when he was in 



his sixties, found him exhausted of all adaptability. It 
could be said of him that he really didn't know where he 

My grandmother is in the photograph, too. She died in 
1904, a date for which I have an absolutely infallible sign. 
When I went over with my father to the house on Mazeppa 
Street, where she lay, he insisted on taking along the Yid- 
dish newspaper. The Express, and when I pleaded with 
him to leave it behind — I could not have explained my 
distress — he said, sternly: "What do you mean? It says here 
that the Japanese are smiting the Russians hip and thigh; 
everybody will be glad to hear it." For a moment I thought 
that he was including grandmother; either he had for- 
gotten that she was dead or else he was under the impres- 
sion that the dead could hear. But when we came into the 
room he shoved the newspaper into his pocket and he 
made no mention of the Japanese victories. 

I wept for my grandmother. She was a loving soul in a 
small, shrunken body. At times she would produce a ha'- 
penny for me, and if I had already made my weekly con- 
tribution to the circulating library of our cheder, I would 
hasten to Saunder's and Wagstaffe's toffee shop and linger 
at the window in long, delicious, and salivating indecision. 
I used to think I was her favorite grandchild, but she had 
more than a dozen little grandchildren and each one had 
the same impression; such is the natural effect of a great 
capacity for love. None of us ever got ha'pennies from 
grandfather, and only once did he give expression to what 
might pass as an affectionate interest in me. That was on 
the Sabbath after my thirteenth birthday, my bar mitzvah, 
when for the first time, and in token of my entry into man- 
hood and moral responsibility, I was called up in the syna- 
gogue to the reading of the weekly portion of the Prophets. 
I came through without a flaw, chanting, with all the tradi- 



tional trills and roulades, the opening of the story of 
Samson. Flushed with pride I went back to my place be- 
tween my father and grandfather, and grandfather leaned 
over and implanted a loud public kiss on my forehead. It 
rang through the synagogue and made a tremendous im- 
pression on me; it was as if a cannon had been fired in my 

Grandmother's was the second family death I witnessed, 
the first having been that of my shadowy little sister Bessie 
in Rumania. At the age of five or six I had gone through 
the common childhood preoccupation with death, my own 
and that of others, and was reminded poignantly of it when 
my first granddaughter, at the same age, snuggled close to 
me and whispered: "You're not so old. Grandpa Moish; 
you won't die yet for a long time." But at nine I had for- 
gotten my early terrors, and the transformation of my 
grandmother into an image which was laid in a box and 
carried out of the house amid hand-wringing and loud 
sobbing was a totally new, totally unexpected, and ghastly 
event, bewildering and shattering in its effect. 

How could such a frightful thing happen? What was the 
matter with the grown-ups, the bosses of the world, that 
they should let themselves be pushed around in this incom- 
prehensible fashion, not lifting a finger, but rather joining 
with abandon in the monstrous procedure? There was so 
much frightening play-acting, too: the bucket of water 
at the outside door into which you had to dip your fingers 
entering and leaving, the mirrors and pictures turned to 
the wall, the entering and leaving without salutation, the 
sitting in stockinged feet on low stools, the tearing of the 
lapel of your coat. I wept for my grandmother and felt I 
was part of a conspiracy; I wished I could thrust into her 
hand all the ha'pennies she had ever given me; she might 
need them where she was being taken. 



Other ha'pennies came from Auntie Chaya, and some- 
times farthings. In my childhood the farthing had status. 
You could get for it an indestructible piece of toffee, or a 
"kali-sucker," a paper bag with a hollow straw stuck into 
a quantity of sickly-sweet white powder. You could also get 
at the chemist's shop a stupefying scientific device, a small 
sheet of rice paper perfectly blank but for an asterisk in 
the top left-hand corner and a printed motto on top: THE 
You folded the sheet at the edges, stood it up like a minia- 
ture table, and applied a glowing match tip to the asterisk. 
Then wondrous things came to pass. Thin trails of red fire 
started out from the asterisk, ran complicated courses which 
never crossed, and having become extinguished left behind 
a burned-out profile of Queen Victoria, or King Edward 
VII, or Buffalo Bill. We used to debate whether the aster- 
isk was committed in advance to a particular portrait, and 
it is a matter for regret that I cannot recall which side I 
took, though I do recall the gist and tone of the argu- 
ments. To some it seemed unlikely that such ingenuity 
should be dissociated from free will and intelligence; 
against that was the patent fact that there were only three 
designs. The metaphysicists among us opined that even 
this limited choice constituted free will; the materialists 
answered, with precocious scientific acrimony: "You don't 
know what the bleddy hell you're talking about; it depends 
where you touch the star." 

Auntie Chaya was fat, motherly, and jolly. Her children 
were too young to be my playmates, but I liked her house 
and used to hang about it, though only in part for the 
ha'pennies and farthings and tidbits. Before Uncle Leon 
rented his warehouse on Upper Strangeways, he kept part 
of his stock at home, and I was fascinated by the endless 
variety: brooms, chamber pots, toilet paper, hasps and 



Staples, hand mirrors, writing paper, mufflers (scarves), 
loofahs, toothbrushes, shoelaces, shoepolish, pots and pans, 
locks and keys, spectacle frames, dustcloths, caps, slippers, 
cups, saucers, gas mantles, all in a bewildering jumble. 
The multitudinousness of objects gave me the impression 
that Uncle Leon was enormously rich. I longed to grow up 
and be like him, the possessor of countless things, and it 
surprised me that Auntie Chaya seemed to take no interest 
in the marvels of the two stockrooms. 

She was an avid listener at my father's readings, and the 
only one who ever interceded for me at the dread moment 
of dismissal, though to no effect. I would try to sit next to 
her on the sofa, out of my father's line of sight, and shielded 
by her bulk, which I assumed she had accumulated for 
my special protection. The warmth of my childhood mem- 
ory of her must have had something of the physical in it, 
she was such a cosy, reassuring bulwark. If only she hadn't 
started so violently at some tragic turn in the story, or 
laughed with such head-to-foot heartiness at the comic 
passages, breaking like a seismic disturbance into the web 
I was spinning for myself! 

Uncle Leon was lean, prematurely bald, nervous, talka- 
tive, and clever, given to sarcastic clowning and spasms of 
intellectual curiosity different from Uncle Berel's in that 
they were more penetrating but also more self-conscious 
and exhibitionistic. The first of our clan and the only one 
of his generation to become well-to-do, he was generous 
even in comparative poverty. He "went on markets," that 
is, he had stalls, miniature Woolworths, which he opened 
in a number of surrounding towns on market nights. 
There he sold the contents of his stockrooms. It was cruel 
work, as hard on the mind as on the body. It called for the 
memory of a Macaulay and the stamina of a Peary. After a 
busy evening which lasted until after eleven, one was too 



exhausted to write down the needed replacements; besides, 
there was the repacking and recrating to do. One simply 
had to remember, whether in Oldham, or Wigan, or 
Altringham, or Macclesfield, what to ship in for the next 

Two circumstances added to the burdens of this occupa- 
tion: a certain amount of thievishness among the custom- 
ers, and the uncertainty of the Lancashire weather. There 
would be four or five salesmen inside the stall, which was 
in the form of a hollow square. When one of them spotted 
marauding hands near another salesman's pitch, he would 
shout in Yiddish: "Mick, tzvei-tzen — two-ten," meaning, 
"Two eyes to watch ten fingers." But there was no guard- 
ing against the weather. A sudden squall would empty the 
market place, and once the crowd had dispersed it never 
reassembled; and if the squall developed into a good old 
Lancashire storm the repacking would have to be done 
while gusts of wind tore at stanchions and canvass, and 
sheets of rain passed and repassed over the exposed wares. 
From such profitless evenings Uncle Leon would return 
home, sopping wet and bedraggled, close to collapse. No 
wonder he used to complain that he went not on markets, 
but on makkes, calamities and curses. 

In my high-school days I used to turn an occasional shil- 
ling by going along to help. The towns I have mentioned 
were also those I used to visit as a socialist agitator, so that I 
appeared in them in two capacities; from soapboxes I 
exposed the evils of the profit system and from behind my 
uncle's stalls gave practical demonstrations of it. 

Some time before I entered college Uncle Leon sold the 
stalls and became a wholesale supplier to the poor devils 
who bought them. He engaged me one Sunday every month 
for stock-taking and what he called bookkeeping. Before 
my first day of employment I hurriedly consulted a friend 



who was attending commercial school and reported back 
to Uncle Leon that I would need a journal, a ledger, and 
sundry other records. I had improvised, with much labor 
and to my own admiration, a system for entering debits and 
credits and drawing up balance sheets, and I began to 
explain it. Uncle Leon listened for a minute or two with 
a faraway and slightly compassionate expression, then 
drawled in that peculiarly sarcastic way of his that used 
to get under my skin: What debits? What crebits? What 
do you think I am? A Lewis's shop, a Baxendale?" He was 
referring to prominent Manchester firms. "Here!" He 
handed me a penny notebook. "Write down what I say. 
Wachtell owes me four pounds eight shillings for the last 
two months. I can get loofahs cheaper from Feitelson's. 
Jacobson says I'm a swindler because the rent is going up 
on the Altringham stall I sold him and I promised him it 
wouldn't. He's a liar; I didn't make any promises and the 
rent isn't going up. He's trying to squeeze me for better 
prices, but it'll help him as much as leeches help a corpse. 
There's no money in my chamber pots; I've got too many 
and they take up room. Wherever I turn I stumble over 
chamber pots. I'll offer them for three shillings less on the 
dozen. Why aren't you writing?" 

"What shall I write?" I asked. "That wherever you turn 
you stumble over chamber pots? And where do you want me 
to write it?" 

"There! Right there!" pointing to the notebook. 

"On the same page as Feitelson and the loofahs and 
Jacobson is a liar?" 

"Certainly. Do you want a separate book for each of 

The preparations with which I had thought to impress 
him were going for nought, and with them the value I had 
set on my services. 



"What kind of system is this?" I asked. 

"Who needs a system? I have everything in my head." 

"Then what are you writing it down for?" 

He meditated a while, and said softly, in Yiddish: "In 
case I close an eye," meaning in case he died. 

There was only one proper answer to such a remark, 
namely: "Bite your tongue off." Exasperated, I forgot 
tradition and my manners and said: "But nobody will un- 
derstand this rubbish." 

"So they won't understand. What difference will that 
make to me when I'm nine ells underground?" 

He didn't want a bookkeeping system. He needed, for 
the conduct of his business, only the bills and receipts he 
kept skewered in his roll-top desk; for the rest he relied 
on his memory. He never had me read back to him what 
was written in the notebook; nor did he ever look at the 
long stock lists we compiled; he dictated only by way of re- 
hearsal. His memory, while still phenomenal, was not 
quite as good as in the market days, but just to watch me 
write was all the help he needed. 

I would bill him regularly ten shillings for the day's work 
and settle as regularly for half a crown (two and a half 
shillings). I argued that I was being paid at something like 
fourpence an hour, which was wage slavery. He was not 
to be budged. He was as hard in business as he was generous 
outside of it, and if I had asked him for ten shillings as 
a gift, or even a whole pound, he would have given it to 
me. He once explained: "If you're kind in business you 
won't be in it for long and then you'll have nothing to be 
kind with. Besides, the man who's kind in business is 
ashamed of it and is called a fool, whereas if he's kind out 
of business he lets everybody know he's a feiner mentsch — 
a gentleman." This last was an unjustified sneer at him- 
self, for he was an unostentatious giver. He supported my 



grandparents, he was always helping relatives — a half- 
crazy sister in Paris, a brother in Smyrna, and a cantank- 
erous old mother, Charney, who was with us for a while — 
she is in the group photograph, a massive, square-jawed 
matriarch. There was a rumor that she had once kept a 
whorehouse in Constantinople. 

Later Uncle Leon left the hardware trade and turned 
to moneylending, operating on the same principles — 
ruthlessness in business, generosity outside of it. He was 
the only one of the older generation who was not horrified 
by my socialist activities. He had a social philosophy which 
was nearer to anarchism than socialism. Human beings, 
he thought, were fundamentally good; their natural im- 
pulse was to live together in harmony without the inter- 
ference of laws and governments; but something had gone 
wrong somewhere, and instead of harmony there was uni- 
versal discord and hatred. "Vi vilde chayes — like wild 
beasts!" When he talked like that you would have taken 
him for a sentimentalist and a softy; actually, he was 
shrewd and realistic, with a sharp insight into human 
weaknesses and no little capacity for exploiting them in 

I was sometimes present when he was making a sale, 
and I would be spellbound by the performance. There was 
something of the actor and much of the Levantine in him. 
His tongue ran on so, and he put up such a show of eager- 
ness and confusion that the buyer lost his bearings. His 
favorite phrase was: "I'll tell you what I'll do with you!" 
— uttered in the tone of a man who was sick and tired of 
bargaining and was resolved to get out of a nasty situation 
at a ruinous loss. "I'll throw in a gross of toothbrushes at 
half price and the black year take it — to hell with it! And if 
you're not satisfied I'll give you two months' credit and 
the cash discount." Then he would smite himself on the 



forehead with his open palm: "Sha! Wait! As Queen 
Esther said, if I'm done for, I'm done for. I'll tell you 
what I'll do with you! I've just received a shipment of 
combs, beauties, here, take a look. I ordered them for — 
well, never mind who, why should you have it on your 
conscience? Put them on your stall and they'll go like hot 
cakes, one- two-three! Aha? You pretend you don't like 
them but there's a glint in your eye. Good! Put them on 
one side, and take a look at this job lot of shaving mugs, I 
got them cheap and you can have them for nothing! For 
nothing! And I'll tell you what else I'll do with you — " 

He offered concessions, combinations, reductions, bo- 
nuses, with machine-gun rapidity, and the remarkable 
thing was that he never overreached himself; more re- 
markably still, he never really put anything over on a 
buyer. "I wouldn't do that. I'd lose the man. But I know 
the business a thousand times better than he does. Only 
I want him to think that he's swindled me. He goes away 
laughing to himself and considers himself a genius. And 
take my word for it — everything I give him he'll sell at 
a decent profit. So everybody's happy." 

Since he was a moralist outside business hours, I made 
the point that he was corrupting his customers, encourag- 
ing them in the belief that they were successful swindlers. 
"Ot hosste dir gehot!" he answered. "There you go! Am 
I Moses our Teacher? Am I saving souls or am I selling 
hardware? Isn't it enough that I'm honest? And if you 
want to go into the little letters" — he was referring to the 
marginal commentaries in the Talmud, about which every 
Jew knows without having looked into a volume of the 
Talmud — "if you want to go into the little letters, isn't 
all business a swindle? You yourself, Mr. Socialist, say 
so; and the bigger the business, the bigger the swindle." 

As Uncle Berel would have made a good novelist, so, I 



think Uncle Leon would have made a good Talmudist. 
He was more than a rapid reasoner; he saw into the es- 
sence of human situations and often expressed himself with 
aphoristic neatness. He once said: "If a friend does you 
a favor and reminds you of it, he cancels it. For he was 
making an investment, not doing you a kindness." Then 
again: "Favors aren't business transactions. If a man does 
you a favor and you can't return it, return it to someone 
else who never did you a favor. Kindnesses should circu- 
late, not go back and forth between two persons." On one 
occasion a member of our clan spent much more than he 
could afford on an only daughter's wedding. Uncle Leon 
was highly critical, and when someone pleaded: "Look, 
after all a thing like that happens once in a lifetime," 
he answered: "Narrishkeit — fool-talk. Every Monday and 
Thursday a once-in-a-lifetime thing is happening — a wed- 
ding, a funeral, a bar-mitzvah, a circumcision, a reunion 
with a long-lost relative, this, that, the other. From once- 
in-a-lifetimes you're left with nothing to live on." 

Uncle Leon had an older sister, Mallie, who was mar- 
ried to my mother's brother, Moritz. Among my older 
relatives I knew Auntie Mallie best because one of her 
sons, Mick, was for a long time my best pal. She was 
slightly subnormal and I disliked her for a reason which 
did not become clear to me until long after she was dead: 
she had the cunning of the mentally retarded against 
which the normal person is defenseless. Her stupidity was 
too quick-witted for us. One couldn't get through to her, 
for she was impenetrably armored against self-perception, 
and the notion that she had done wrong was as remote 
from her mode of thought as quantum mechanics. 

If one of her children asked for something she didn't 
want to give, she never refused it outright; instead, she 
would say, soothingly: "Hush now, hush, you really don't 



want that." In our life a refusal was a straightforward 
thing, routine; you knew you couldn't always get what 
you wanted; you protested, and made your peace with the 
refusal. But this bland disfranchisement, this shooing 
you out of the right to want, was maddening. You didn't 
know where to take hold of it. You could cry, and keep on 
repeating: "Yes, I do want it," but before long you found 
yourself wanting not the particular thing but your right 
to want it — which she would not concede — while the thing 
itself had lost all interest for you, so that Auntie Mallie 
was right after all! It was an indefinable, unidentifiable, 
and intolerable species of torture which Auntie Mallie 
had invented and patented. It was also a double injustice, 
for it robbed you of the residuary equity of an honest 
refusal; after all, a certain number of refusals built up a 
claim of sorts, entitled you finally to some consideration. 
This was the humane and natural law between children 
and grown-ups, but Auntie Mallie stood outside it. What 
could you claim for having ten times not been given what 
you hadn't wanted in the first place? It was as if you were 
being accused of trying to pile up counterfeit credits. 

Another trick of hers in the same spirit was to ask for 
a favor as if collecting a debt. I say "trick" but I am sure 
she wasn't aware of it as such. She would say: "It's a long 
time since you went an errand for me, so won't you . . ." 
A long time might not have passed since you had done 
something for her. How could you remember? You didn't 
keep a notebook of services rendered. You were quite 
helpless; she spoke amiably, with such tacit conviction, 
that even if you happened to remember a recent service 
it would have been graceless — as well as futile — to bring 
it up. 

She had a wonderful way of putting people in the wrong 
beforehand whenever she anticipated criticism. She would 



say, placidly: "Now listen to what I'll tell you, and don't 
lose your temper, don't start screaming at me." This de- 
vice was familiar to everyone who knew her, yet it was 
invariably successful. Either one was immediately stung 
into replying, angrily: "I'm not going to lose my temper, 
and I'm not going to scream at you," whereupon she 
would sigh patiently: "See, I told you," or else one would 
exercise great self-control and reply: "Yes, go on," think- 
ing — in spite of all past experience — to frustrate her; but 
no, she sensed the suppressed irritation as a dog is said 
to sense the released adrenalin in a frightened person, 
and she would insist, gently, skeptically: "But I know 
you're going to scream at me," and of course one finally 

With all this she was by no means unkind, she only 
wanted her kindnesses to have the character of free, spon- 
taneous, and unmerited offerings without the taint of a 
quid pro quo. If she gave you an apple or a pear or a piece 
of cake she made you eat it in her presence, while she 
nodded approvingly and purred: "Good, isn't it?" She 
needed praise in large quantities and made a play for it 
under the most unfavorable circumstances. If someone 
complained that the soup was cold she would answer 
proudly: "That doesn't happen often with me, does it?" 
She turned every lapse into an opportunity, which nobody 
else ever seized, for the celebration of her virtues; one 
could feel her pressing for good words, and it made one 

Children are more sensitive than grown-ups to such 
maneuvers of the ego. They have only just and barely 
come to terms with the over-all accepted system of ameni- 
ties, conventions, and shams; they react quickly and re- 
sentfully to unscheduled demands on their powers of 
pretence. I disliked Auntie Mallie because, as we would 



now say, she crowded me. I could not have explained the 
relationship, I could not have given an acceptable reason 
for disliking her; thus I seemed to dislike her without 
cause, which put me in the wrong and therefore made me 
dislike her the more. 

Her husband, Uncle Moritz, my mother's brother, kept 
a haberdashery, and the family lived in rooms behind and 
above it. There were many children, and an infant or two 
would usually be rolling about, half-naked, on the shop 
floor, sometimes befouling it. The business did not suffer 
as a consequence; it may even have benefited. The cus- 
tomers, nearly all from the Salford slums, were not finicky; 
they may have felt that such dirt and disorder meant lower 
prices, and the place did in fact suggest the last stages of 
a bankruptcy sale. It is not impossible that Uncle Moritz 
counted on the effect. 

To me he was a sly and secretive creature. Indoors he 
always wore slippers, even when serving in the shop, and 
he moved quietly through the hullabaloo of his surround- 
ings. He sported, incongruously, a small and distinguished 
beard which curved away right and left from the cleft in 
his chin — on the photograph he puts one in mind of 
Charles Evan Hughes or C. P. Scott of The Manchester 
Guardian. I was intrigued by his beard and disconcerted 
by his noiseless appearances and disappearances, and by 
his occasional, brief spasms of speechless rage, I had the 
impression that he hated his wife, and I had some difficulty 
in reconciling this with their fruitfulness. I have since 
come round to the view that he loved Auntie Mallie but 
could not stand the disorder and dirt in the midst of which 
he lived, even though they may have been useful to his 
business. But if he did hate her she certainly would not 
have known it; she lived out her cheerful life more or less 
incommunicado. In company, and particularly when the 


talk turned to "high matters," Uncle Moritz livened up; 
the higher they were, the more remote from everyday 
reality, the livelier he became. He had a peculiar fixation 
on somebody he called "Alexander Mukden," whom he 
considered the greatest non-Jew who had ever lived, even 
greater than Napoleon. It was a long time before I realized 
that he meant Alexander the Great (Mukden — Makedon 
— Macedonia). I surmise that he yoked him with Napo- 
leon because both had left some mark in Jewish history; 
Napoleon had convened a Sanhedrin and Alexander the 
Great had received with friendliness a deputation of High 

Having much to do with gentiles. Uncle Moritz acquired 
a working knowledge of English; so, for the same reason, 
did Uncle Leon, who, being the youngest of his generation, 
in time became comparatively Anglicized, turned from 
the Yiddish to the English press, and even lived to see 
virtue in bookkeeping. They were exceptions; the large 
majority of the clan, dealing mostly among themselves, 
remained to the end strangers to the language and ways 
of their tolerant host country. 

My uncles Berel and Srul (Israel), with their wives 
Malkah and Rosa, vanished early from my childhood. I 
found them in America in 1914, but Auntie Malkah died 
soon after my arrival; if she had lived I would probably 
never have got to know Uncle Berel as well as I did. Uncle 
Srul, too, kept a cleaning and pressing store. He was spec- 
tacularly handsome but so vain, and so dull, that after 
half an hour with him I would be sweating with despera- 
tion. Auntie Rosa was very fat, a famous cook, and a com- 
pulsive eater; the poor woman grew and grew until she 
weighed over four hundred pounds and one was embar- 
rassed to look at her. But she outlived all her contempo- 
raries and died in her middle eighties. The frequency of 



my visits to Uncle Berel was kept secret from her and 
Uncle Srul, and I do not remember ever seeing Uncle 
Srul at Uncle Berel's Rumanian restaurant. 

Dozens and scores of the members of the vanished Ru- 
manian Jewish ghetto of Manchester maintain a ghostly 
clamor for admission to this record: Fish the fishmonger 
and Fish the fruit dealer and a third Fish, the "hoarse 
chicken-slaughterer," a pietist who had all the qualifica- 
tions of a cantor except a voice; Aaron the shoemaker, 
who at one time worked for my father and created a 
scandal by opening a shoe-repair shop of his own round 
the corner; Mendel the milkman, who woke me every 
morning by shouting up and down the street; Kupperman 
the fruitdealer, who was pitied because he had insured 
his mother-in-law — a bundle of skin and bones — and she 
clung to life with unnatural tenacity, to weep, in the end, 
at his funeral. Mingled with these are some outsiders, 
Litvak or Galician or English-bom Jews who endured a 
minor exile in our midst: Mooslin the watchmaker, a 
cripple whose twisted walk I was adept at imitating; Matz 
the pharmacist, who had a long nose and funneled his 
talk through it; Jenkins the tailor and Goodman the 
photographer and Davis the carpenter and Solomon the 
fiddler, whose sons were also fiddlers ... I must turn them 
back; I must be practical, like the director of an immi- 
grant-aid society: "Don't push; if you all try to get in at 
once, none of you will get in. Later, later." They eye me 
skeptically: "Look at him, dressed in a little brief autho- 
rity. Quotas, eh? And favorites. Relatives first, naturally. 
We know all about it." 


Jf^ r^i iJfTt 




JL N THE MASS I welcoiTie them all into the record, rela- 
tives near and remote, friends of the family and acquaint- 
ances, as the representatives of the Jewish people through- 
out a hundred generations, not the scholars and saints and 
teachers, but amcho (Thy people), the plebs. They knew 
themselves to be untutored, and were humble about it. 
Their reverence for learning had not its like among the 
gentiles, even of the upper class; it had a fierce and en- 
during quality, and its frustration by poverty was their 
greatest spiritual affliction. I cannot remember a single 
instance of sneering at book knowledge, such as I later 
came across among some Jews, and of course non-Jews 
too. Granted, there was no one in our little community 
rich enough to flaunt his worldly success in the face of 
an indigent scholar — if there had been an indigent scholar 
in our clan. But your true grabber ying (coarse boor) is 
contemptuous of learning even when he is himself no shin- 
ing example of the advantages of ignorance. To him ig- 
norance is a positive quality in its own right. "I'm a plain, 
practical man, and I don't hold with that fancy college 
stuff." Quite foreign to the outlook of my people would 
have been the word "egghead," which, though not coined 
by the poor and illiterate, has great currency among them. 


Their life philosophy found partial expression in their 
attitude toward the world about them. They loved Eng- 
land, and in many ways admired her immoderately. The 
wealth of England fired their imagination; the rest of the 
world could subsist on her leavings; the Roman Empire 
had been a beggarly thing by comparison. My uncle Mo- 
ritz said: "If I had a hundredth part of the paper that is 
thrown out daily in this country, I would be richer than 
Rothschild." Then, starting back from his own temerity: 
"What am I saying? If I had the string for the bundles of 

Next to England they ranked Germany, partly for her 
language, which they regarded as an aristocratic Yiddish, 
respected but also parodied by them. Anyone who aspired 
to the reputation of a worldly intellectual was disqualified 
if he could not speak a little German, or what passed for 
German with them. 

More than England's wealth they admired English jus- 
tice. They invoked for England the Rabbinic saying that 
the just among the gentiles have their place in Paradise. 
They connected England's greatness with her generosity 
toward the Jews, but not as cause and effect. They cited 
Cyrus of Persia, whom God had called "My anointed"; Cy- 
rus became great, then he encouraged the Jews to rebuild 
their homeland after the First Destruction. However, 
they could also argue that God had made him great for 
that purpose; and it was an article of faith with them that 
the fate of Pharaoh and Haman (and the Roman Empire) 
awaited the rulers of Russia and Rumania. 

But their high regard for England had its reservations. 
They compared their own way of life with that of their 
neighbors in the adjacent Salford slums and knew it to be 
immeasurably superior. There was no drunkenness in our 
community, no animalism, no wife-beating, no recourse 



to violence. These defects were despised as specifically 
goyish. My people did not suppose that all poor gentiles 
were like that; the Saunders and Wagstaffe ladies of the 
toffee shop, and Mr. Maude, the leather merchant, were 
obviously decent people, though they and we and our 
Salford neighbors were more or less on the same economic 
level. But the gentiles in our midst were few, and those 
that wandered into our area on Saturday nights were 
mostly drunks and hoodlums, men and women loud of 
voice and free with their fists. At other times the grotes- 
quely poor came our way: indescribably ragged, unwashed 
men who in the summer sold paper flycatchers to the tune 
of "Catch 'em alive, O catch 'em alive"; others collected 
our leavings for farthings — rags, bones, and bottles — chant- 
ing in the entries (back alleys) a nasal "Har! Hoe!"* 
("Rags! Bones!"?) ; misshapen, gnomelike charwomen 
who earned twopence yellow-stoning the front-door steps, 
and who were sometimes seen taking their earnings into 
the Brunswick pub. Nobody had ever heard of a Jewish 
woman going into a pub — it would have been considered 
a monstrosity — or of Jews bawling and brawling in the 
street; and the sight of a Jew being led off by a policeman 
would have been considered a communal calamity. Nor 
would we ever have permitted a Jew to show himself in 
the God-forsaken condition of the rag-and-bone and fly- 
catcher men, unless he was, like poor meshuggener (loony) 
Benjy, a harmless lunatic who could be neither committed 
nor controlled. 

My people were not quite fair; they forgot that in Ru- 
mania and elsewhere there was a comparable Jewish class, 
if with other defects. Yet they were not wholly unfair. 
Rumania was a miserable country, England was the world's 
richest and noblest, and there was no excuse. They felt, 
moreover, that a community is to be judged not only by 



how the majority behaves, but also by what it tolerates 
in a minority. A community in which "only" five per cent 
of the death rate is accounted for by murder would — if 
such a community is thinkable — properly be called a den 
of murderers. 

They were unfair in another respect. They had no idea 
how much good humor, as well as native goodness, how 
much courage — I could almost use the word gallantry — 
there was in some of those tatterdemalion, occasionally 
boozy charwomen. Nor did they make allowance for con- 
ditions different from their own. None of my people knew 
the taste of "black labor," the exhausting, brutalizing 
slavery of navvies, stevedores, steel workers, porters. They 
were artisans — tailors, shoemakers, carpenters — or shop- 
keepers. On the other hand, it was not physical exertion 
which frightened them away from the heavier occupations; 
it was the horrible prospect of becoming mindless beasts 
of burden. How could they have hung on to what they 
called "dus hissel Yiddishkeit," their bit of Jewishness? 

This was how they referred to it, apologetically, know- 
ing how far they fell short of anything like the ideal. But 
their "bit of Yiddishkeit" was related, for them, to some- 
thing much more comprehensive than a moral code. It 
was part of a time-defying identity which they associated 
with the atoo buchartooni (as they pronounced it), the 
notion of the Chosen People. Asked to define the notion, 
they would fall back on dogma and self-flattery; yet their 
self-flattery had nothing to do with their real merit, which 
they did not wholly understand, while I, of course, did 
not understand it at all. 

There was a point of view from which they looked down 
on mighty England as a whole. "Looked down" is per- 
haps a little too strong; "felt sorry" is nearer to it. If they 
could not say enough about English justice, their admira- 



tion was based to some extent on the paradoxical fact 
that the English had never received the Torah, our Torah, 
the everlasting word of God. It made England's moral 
achievement all the more remarkable, but it was useless 
to deny that this handicap was bound, ultimately, to be 
England's undoing, as it had been the undoing of so many 
empires before hers. A great pity, a very great pity — such 
a wonderful people! But there it was. Theoretically the 
English might save themselves by becoming Jews, but that 
was unlikely before the coming of the Messiah, and then 
it would be too late, for by then empires would be a thing 
of the past, and everybody would have accepted the Torah. 
If you wanted to see the fatal deficiency at its clearest 
you had only to look at the English institution of sports, 
before which my people stood baffled and dismayed. Ath- 
letics for the young it understood; person to person physi- 
cal competition it also understood, again for the young — 
the foolishness of immaturity; one condoned it, one never 
encouraged it. But that people of mature years should as- 
semble voluntarily by the thousands and tens of thousands 
and work themselves into a wild excitement watching 
others hardly less mature (in our world one was mature 
in the early teens) kick a ball round a field was evidence 
of that deep-rooted pagan aberration from which we had 
been rescued by the Torah. It was not a defect of simple 
ignorance. The educated English classes, far from dis- 
associating themselves from the institution, were its pillars, 
and accounted it one of the glories of their civilization, 
perhaps the fount of all its other glories. Doctors and pro- 
fessors (the reverence with which we uttered such titles!) 
attended, unashamed, unrebuked, cricket, football, and 
boxing matches, and took the outcome passionately to 
heart. So much my people gathered from the Yiddish paper 
and from us children. Well, say what you like, there were 



undoubtedly men of great learning among the English, 
and they had written learned books, but what compari- 
son could there be between these and the Talmud, or the 
Rambam (Maimonides)? When I pointed out that in our 
little world no one, my rebbe excepted, had ever so much 
as looked at a page of the Talmud or of Maimonides, let 
alone read a paragraph of an English philosopher, the 
reply was: "Socialist! So you think the goyim have some- 
thing as good as the Torah? If they have, why do they be- 
have like that?" 

That question and reproach must have been addressed 
to me after the scholarship had made a new man of me. 
How I handled the problem I can no longer say, but until 
then I did not have to handle it because it had no reality, 
it had no place in rational discourse. As a reader of The 
Gem, The Magnet, Pluck, etc., I identified myself with the 
pukka and japeful young heroes of the British public 
(i.e., private) schools as portrayed by writers who had ob- 
viously never attended one. One just didn't ask Tom 
Merry and Harry Wharton what sense there was in sports. 
Thus, until my thirteenth year, I knew no inner conflict 
between my Jewish and my non-Jewish worlds; they di- 
vided me into two peacefully coexistent but non-commu- 
nicating halves. 

I did, on occasion, tell my parents that Mr. Fisher, one 
of the Standard Four teachers, sometimes played football 
with us, and that Mr. Sharpies, our headmaster, had been 
a noted footballer in his young manhood, and was still 
proud of his record in the field. It was no use. The moral 
authority of England was circumscribed; Jewish was Jew- 
ish, goyish was goyish. My mother, in so many ways more 
permissive than my father, shared the common view on 
sports. She said: "Narralle, silly, just imagine your rebbe 
playing football with the cheder boys; vus jar a poonim 



vot doos gehot — what would it look like?" It would cer- 
tainly have looked mad: that bearded and portly pietist 
in his black gaberdine (or, unimaginably, bare-kneed in 
shorts) , crouching between goal posts or dribbling a foot- 
ball down the field and shouting some Yiddish equivalent 
for "Pass!" or "Offside!" Maddest of all was the thought 
of him leaping into the air like Mr. Fisher to intercept the 
ball with his head. It illustrated perfectly the incommu- 
nicability of the two worlds, and because of this incom- 
municability there was no ideological or inner clash, only 
a clash of external wills. But when I turned "intellectual" 
and affected — intermittently, at any rate — a vast contempt 
for sports, quoting with relish Kipling's "muddied oafs," 
my parents were still in the wrong. For, as I saw it, they 
spoke from prejudice, I from reflection. Marvelous and 
eternal insolence of youth! They were the "not yet," I 
was the "no longer." 

Football and cricket were of course not our only pas- 
times. There were "the hills," or, as my parents called it, 
"de heels," an unbuilt area stretching from behind the 
northern side of Bury New Road to Hightown, half a 
mile away. This bleak, undulating expanse of clay was 
the land of our adventure and our Tom Tiddler's ground. 
Here and there its repulsive infecundity was emphasized 
by scabby eruptions of green, and in the middle of it was 
Gilly's Pond, forty or fifty feet across, in which by a mir- 
acle of ecology tiny fishes we called jacksharps lived. You 
sat on the bank and made a wild sweep with an empty 
jam jar when one of them darted by below you. Occasion- 
ally you fell in, and anyhow you splashed yourself from 
head to foot, which came to the same thing. When not 
fishing, you went Alpine climbing, for which you needed 
a length of wash line, purloined for the duration, and two 
or three companions. Tied to one another, you clambered 



up gentle slopes pretending fiercely they were perpendicu- 
lar; you dug your heels in grimly, shouted warnings of 
mortal glacier depths, and organized intrepid rescue 
parties for the heedless or reckless. When the fishing or 
climbing was over, you labored in vain to remove the 
evidence from your clothes and tried to sneak into the 
house by the back door, dreading more your mother's 
heartbroken: "You've been on de heels again!" than the 
cuffing you expected from your father; dreading most 
of all to be caught with the jam jar and to have your jack- 
sharp — there was seldom more than one — thrown out with 
the muddy water. 

The lure of "the hills" was heightened by two attend- 
ant dangers, a brick works and occasional gangs of pug- 
nacious Salford youngsters of our age. Of these the first 
was the more serious. There was a deep gully where the 
clay had been excavated, and a gondola-carrying cable 
stretched on a downward slope from one end of the gully 
to the other. On Sunday the works were deserted, and it 
was a tremendous lark to haul the gondola to the top of 
the slope and ride it to the bottom, jumping off just before 
it smacked into the wooden buffer. This was a group en- 
terprise; it took six or seven of us to do the hauling, though 
only two of us could ride at a time. We quarreled for the 
privilege of the ride, less for the pleasure of it than for 
the fear of being thought cowards. I am astonished that, 
as far as I remember, no one was ever killed or crippled. 

A policeman was assigned on Sundays to keep trespass- 
ers off, but he took his duties lightly and absented himself 
for hours at a stretch. We posted sentinels at strategic 
points, and they had two warning signals. When the po- 
liceman was first espied, they shouted: "N.L.T.C.!" for: 
"Now, lads, the copper!" When he had approached within 
a certain distance, it was: "N.L.T.C.C!" for: "Now, lads, 



the copper coming!" We could just as well have shouted 
the whole words instead of the first letters, but that would 
have lacked flavor. 

The gang tussles were nothing like the "rumbles" of 
our modern American cities. No weapons, not even sticks, 
were used. There would be much skirmishing and shout- 
ing and bragging, for ceremonial purposes — it makes me 
think now of classical Chinese armies and certain prudent 
Italian condottieri — and sometimes a free-for-all from 
which you emerged at worst with a bloody nose. We would 
have been happy in this evidence of our valor if it could 
alv/ays have escaped the attention of our parents; but a 
bloodstained shirt or coat was infinitely worse than soaked 
clothing or a jam jar with a jacksharp in it. 

I can still catch, across half a century and more, the 
note of despair in the voices of our parents. It seemed so 
disproportionate to our misdemeanors. I did not under- 
stand that they were troubled by something other and 
far deeper than torn clothes and wasted time. Our pas- 
times were so heathenish; we were behaving like shkotzim, 
young goyim; we were going in the ways of the unbelievers. 

How should old people feel when the young seem to 
be abandoning them in a hostile world? The sense of 
security grows slowly, and there were times when my peo- 
ple were back in the past. There was evidence of anti- 
Semitism in the Saturday-night rowdies; it came from 
youngsters as well as from tipsy adults. We soon learned 
the words "Sheeny-makalairy" and "Smoggy van Jew." 
"Sheeny" by itself was bad enough; "Sheeny-makalairy" 
and "Smoggy van Jew," accompanied by an offensive ges- 
ticulation — a wagging of the fiat, upturned palms about 
the ears — were more venomous. Some of this may have 
been coarsely good-natured, but my people were not of 
a mind to make fine distinctions; ancestral and personal 



memories were too strong. We were gratefully aware that 
England was adamant in the protection of our persons, 
and generous beyond praise in the acknowledgment of 
our human rights. Yet there was this echo of the "Hep! 
Hep!" of the Middle Ages. 

The etymologies of "Sheeny," "Makalairy," and 
"Smoggy" are much debated. "Hep" is clearly traceable to 
the first letters of "Hieroselyma est perdita" — Jerusalem is 
destroyed, or damned. My people, indifferent to etymology, 
had an ear for essentials, and they had heard "Hep! Hep!" 
more than once in Rumania. 

Among my most uncomfortable memories is that of 
the contempt in which for a time I held this sensitivity 
of my parents and relatives. I enjoined them, as well as 
I could, to rise above their anachronistic timidities. We 
were, I told them, in the twentieth century, not the nine- 
teenth, or the eighteenth, let alone the thirteenth, or 
twelfth. Recent pogroms in Russia, brutal discrimination 
in Rumania? "Yes, yes, I know. Why do you keep harping 
on that? They are the last remnants of a tyranny which 
tomorrow's revolution will sweep away forever. The 
Dreyfus case? Well, didn't France, the mother of revolu- 
tions, come out clean in the end? It took a long time, you 
say, and the struggle was fierce? I know, but even while 
the Dreyfus case was on, we got shelter in France, didn't 
we? And nobody molested us there. You do trust England 
and America, but even there you smell infection. And what 
about Germany? Do you smell it there, too? The trouble 
with you is," I continued, anticipating in the strangest 
way the arguments I met later in novels by American 
Jews, "the trouble with you is that you think of the gen- 
tiles the way the lowest gentiles think of us; we have horns, 
they say, and drink Christian blood." The trouble with 
me was that I was so fond of saying "the trouble with you 


W loi W 


The Fathers of the Clan 



.HE JEWISH schooling of my elders in the commu- 
nity had for the most part been better than mine. It had, 
like mine, been limited to an old-fashioned cheder, but in 
Rumania, and for many more hours daily, very often 
without the competition of a Rumanian school. (But my 
father left cheder at the age of eight, and did not go to a 
Rumanian school. Where he picked up his Jewish knowl- 
edge, and how he learned to read so well, is a mystery to 
me.) They had studied the Pentateuch with the standard 
medieval commentary of Rashi; they were more familiar 
than I with the Midrashic folklore of legend and parable, 
which covered all of Biblical history and part of post- 
Biblical history. In the Jewish world this was considered 
the equivalent of an elementary-school education. It was 
not only poverty that had kept them from going further; 
Rumanian Jewry had a merited reputation for spiritual 
backwardness. But it would be a great mistake to interpret 
the depth and substance of their culture in terms of an 
English elementary education. 

What they knew had been woven by continuous later 
repetition into their workaday lives. The average English 
adult who had left school and gone to work at the age of 
thirteen or fourteen hardly remembered, except as names, 
Boadicea, Alfred the Great, Hereward the Wake, Richard 


the Lion-Hearted, Queen Elizabeth, the Armada, Crom- 
well. How often would you hear them mentioned, let alone 
curiously discussed, in the English workman's home, or at 
his convivial gatherings, or in the pub? Among my people, 
the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their wives 
were household familiars; so were Joseph and his brothers, 
who together with the patriarchs formed the pre-people- 
hood group and moved about in a primeval world of their 
own; so were Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Amalek, Balaam, Og, 
King of Bashan, Joshua, Samson, Samuel, David, Solomon, 
Elijah, Mordecai, Esther, Haman, Ahasuerus, and the post- 
Biblical figures of Hillel, Yohanaan ben Zakkai, Eleazar 
ben Azaryah, Akiba, Bar Kochba. We talked about them 
casually, as well as reverently — or, as the case might be, 
abusively. We gossiped about them, and since they were 
quite alive to us, and therefore contemporaries, their his- 
torical order was in one sense irrelevant. 

Their personalities owed more to legend and commen- 
tary than to the terse Biblical text. The Bible told us 
what they had done and we decided what to make of it, 
placing the emphasis where we chose, often without war- 
rant in the record. Abraham our Father was of course the 
first Jew, the "discoverer" of God; we would not have 
dreamed of challenging the fact; nevertheless, it was impos- 
sible for us to think of Noah, who preceded him by ten 
generations, as a goy. He was, to be sure, uncircumcised, 
but he had been naturalized from of old by an unofficial 
referendum. We did not intend thereby to diminish the 
uniqueness of Abraham's spiritual achievement or the 
sharpness of the division that he represents in human his- 
tory; we just could not leave Noah out in the cold. 

The heroic and revolutionary aspect of Abraham's 
career somehow did not come off in the folklore. We knew 
about his struggle with the mighty Nimrod; we knew 



about his defiance of the fiery furnace; we saluted his faith- 
ful and indomitable spirit; but we preferred to dwell on 
Abraham's intellectual struggles with his heathen father, 
Terah, in which there was more of the hilarious than the 
heroic. Poor old Terah! We couldn't make a real villain 
of him; he was, after all, Abraham's father; so we turned 
him into a ridiculous old duffer who could be out-argued 
by the simplest child. Indeed, our favorite stories of the 
God-discovery were of Abraham's childhood and his pre- 
cocious exposure of the impotence of his father's idols. 
What a hash he made of them — literally, chopping them 
up merrily and pretending in all innocence that they had 
fallen out among themselves — as the ancient gods so often 
did — and set upon each other mercilessly. But of course 
old Terah, scratching his gray head, wasn't to be con- 
vinced. Old Terah: the adjective accompanies his every 
mention, partly derisive, partly compassionate; Terah is 
senility; a young Terah, a middle-aged Terah was un- 
thinkable. There he was, there he is, the obstinate old bab- 
bler, everlasting symbol of uneducable heathendom; and 
there stands the boy Abraham, or Abram as he was called 
first, gleeful and godly, axe in hand among the litter of 
limbs and noses and torsos of teraphim. 

We did not make much of Abraham the warrior, though 
he once fought a notable action, he and his three hundred 
and eighteen household retainers, against Chedorlaomer, 
king of Elam, and his allies; he smote them by night and 
chased them north two hundred miles or so, and rescued 
his nephew Lot, whom they had taken prisoner at Sodom. 
(There was another ridiculous character. Lot the envious, 
Lot the sot.) No, Abraham was to us predominantly the 
grandfather figure, mild and magnificent, white-bearded 
and benevolent. The stormy years are behind him — the 
excitement of the Covenant, the argument with God about 



the destruction of Sodom, the painful tangle with Hagar 
and Ishmael and Sarah, the sojourn in Egypt, the long- 
drawn-out waiting for the true heir, the dreadful trial of 
the sacrifice. He is rich and honored and wise, he has 
found grace in the eyes of God and of man. Yes, of course, 
there is that marriage of his after Sarah's death, to some 
woman called Keturah, and there are half a dozen sons 
with outlandish names. We don't talk about that; we talk 
about Abraham's fabulous hospitality, we linger over it 
lovingly, inventively, giving it priority, almost, over his 
discovery of God. If this seems to show a misappreciation 
of values, we must consider that very few of us can be God- 
discoverers, but all of us can practice hospitality, be the 
scale never so humble. Besides, hospitality means life itself 
to a nation of wanderers. So we liked to recall periodically 
how Abraham was always on the alert for wayfarers, and 
how his tent had four doors, north, south, east, and west, 
so that the wayfarer would not even have to trouble look- 
ing for the entrance. 

I once heard a warm argument around the subject of 
Abraham's quadriportaled tent between my uncle Moritz 
and a rag merchant by the name of Lamport. I have said 
that the only man of learning in our community was my 
rebbe. Lamport, the rag merchant, who for two or three 
years rented a cellar in Uncle Moritz's house, was not a 
Rumanian but a Litvak who had attended a Yeshivah, or 
Talmudical college, and his sojourn among us was a bright 
and memorable episode. He was a squat, swarthy young 
man, thick-lipped, lively, and talkative, chockful of quota-^ 
tions from Talmud and Midrash, delighting in the display 
of erudition even when he was sorting rags. He was a be- 
liever, but no longer a practicing pietist. He had shaved off 
his beard, but he seemed to miss it, for in discourse on 
sacred matters he clutched at his chin occasionally, as 
Talmudists do at their beards. He spoke Lithuanian Yid- 



dish, of course, which I used to think an affectation. How 
the following conversation began and ended I do not 
remember. It remains in my mind's museum, along with 
other disconnected exchanges and incidents, like a frag- 
ment of a cuneiform inscription. 

Uncle Moritz was, it seems, disconcerted by the sudden 
realization that Abraham's all-welcoming tent must have 
been constructed in the form of a cross, dread emblem of 
our persecutors which Jews must scrupulously avoid, even 
to the extent of never laying a knife and fork crosswise on 
the table. Then, as suddenly bethinking himself: "Aha! 
Of course! There were no Christians in Abraham our 
Father's day. Besides, the Torah had not yet been given at 
Sinai, and the only commandment he had was about cir- 
cumcision. Emessi True?" 

"Not true at all, if you'll forgive me," answered 
Lamport, "and you, having been to cheder, should know 
better, for it is written in the Pentateuch that God blessed 
Isaac because Abraham had observed all His command- 
ments, statutes, and laws. You've forgotten." 

"By no means," retorted Uncle Moritz. "The Torah is 
not mentioned in that passage. Commandments, statutes, 
laws, but it doesn't say Torah. We had no Torah yet." 

Lamport's voice went into a singsong, his chin wagged 
together with the hand that clutched it. "So — we are be- 
coming pedantic! Then let me tell you: it is written clearly 
in the Midrash that Jacob our Father studied under Shem 
and Eber. What do you think he studied?" 

"How should I know? There are many things they could 
have studied," said Uncle Moritz, sharply. But he was 

"Certainly, certainly. But tell me, my very dear Mr. 
Acker, can you imagine that Jacob our Father was such a 
goy that he studied many things but not the Torah?" 

"Gevald! Help!" cried Uncle Moritz. "I don't imagine 



anything unbecoming to Jacob our Fatiier. I only know the 
Torah came a long time later." 

"Came where? The Torah was ready, black fire on white, 
a million years before it was handed to us at Sinai, a mil- 
lion years before the world was created." 

"That stands written?" 

"And how! But I will ask you another question. Do you 
think Abraham our Father ate pork?" 

Uncle Moritz was stunned. "God forbid." 

"Why not, if he didn't know the Torah and all the six 
hundred and thirteen commandments?" 

"Because it doesn't make sense," said Uncle Moritz. 

"Moreover," continued Lamport, "the Fathers were all 
prophets, and even if the Torah had not yet existed they 
would have foreseen its contents and lived according to 

"They were prophets? That too stands written?" 

"It stands written, it stands written," and Lamport 
quoted chapter and verse. 

A light had come into Uncle Moritz's face, and he ral- 
lied. "I believe you with all my heart. You are not the kind 
to mislead a simple Jew." And, smiling sarcastically: "So 
you will please let me go back to where I was. // Abraham 
our Father was a prophet, and if he foresaw, as he must 
have done, that Christians would come into the world, why 
did he build his tent in the form of a cross?" 

"That," said Lamport blandly — and it was clear that he 
had been stalling while he cast about for the answer — "that 
is an entirely different matter. It happens to be one of the 
Teccou questions." 

Teccou\ Blessed refuge of the baffled intellect! The 
proper transliteration is Teiku, but I have made it Teccou 
so as to transpose the acronym into English. The word is 
composed of the first letters of a Hebrew phrase which in 



free translation would read: Till £lijah, Coming, Clarifies 
Our f/nderstanding. For in the folklore Elijah the Prophet 
is the most multifarious of benefactors. While the present 
world order endures, he is the comforter of the poor, the 
sick, and the oppressed; and when this order draws to a 
close, he will announce the coming of the Messiah. But 
perhaps most important of all to a highly disputatious 
people, he will solve all the unanswerable intellectual 
riddles that have tormented it since its beginnings. 

I know now that Lamport often poked fun at us; he 
passed off on us hoary jokes that were current in his part 
of the world but not in ours — the consecrated academic 
pleasantries of the learned Litvaks, chiefly of the question- 
begging variety. Thus, Uncle Leon once asked him why 
God had chosen to liberate the Jews precisely on the 
wonderful festival of Passover, to which Lamport replied: 
"Exactly! Because it is the most wonderful festival. God 
knows what He's about." To the question: "Where is it 
written that a Jew must always keep his head covered?" he 
was shameless enough to come up with the ancient chest- 
nut: "In the Pentateuch itself, in Genesis: 'And God said 
unto Abram: "Go! Get thee out of thy country." ' Can you 
imagine Abraham our Father going about with uncovered 

Behind Lamport's playfulness there was solid learning 
and a deep meditative streak. I cannot forget what he 
once said on the subject of "nothingness." Whether it was 
Uncle Moritz, or Uncle Leon, or my father who had raised 
the immemorial problem of the yesh m'ayin, the creation 
of the world out of nothing, I do not remember. I remem- 
ber, however, Lamport's swarthy, prematurely wrinkled 
face, dead earnest, and his eyes suffused with a dark glow 
as he exclaimed: "Nothingness, eh? You utter a word and 
you don't stop to reflect what it means. Nothingness! A 



simple matter, you fancy. You, a creature of flesh and 
blood, point into what you call empty space, and you say: 
'Nothing is there! And out of nothing you can make 
nothing.' But I tell you that there is no such thing as 
nothingness. Our nothingness is to God's nothingness as 
night is to day. The human eye cannot see it, the human 
hand cannot touch it, the balance cannot weigh it — but in 
God's nothingness all creation lies dissolved, everything is 
there, asleep for us, awake for Him, ready at his word to 
become visible and tangible to us." Lamport, though 
trained in the rationalist Talmudic school of Vilna, was 
talking the mysticism of the Chassidism and Cabbalists. 

Uncle Leon was greatly drawn to Lamport, and since 
his warehouse was only a few doors away from Uncle 
Moritz's shop, he would come over at odd moments "to 
snatch a human word," as he put it. In fine weather 
Lamport would be squatting in the yard sorting his rags; 
on rainy days he worked in the cellar by the light of a 
kerosene lamp. I would be present occasionally, but only 
by chance, perhaps waiting for my cousin Mick, perhaps 
on an errand. I had no relish for these conversations, for 
this was about the period of my sharpest rebellion against 
Jewish things; and yet, marvelously enough, what I heard 
accidentally, indifferently, or with disdain, sank in, so that 
I am repeatedly astounded, as I come across traditional 
Jewish stories or sayings or anecdotes, to feel a sudden start 
within me, a resurrection: "Why, Rehbe said that once!" 
Or my father, or one of my uncles. It is not difficult for me 
to accept the theory that once an idea or impression passes 
through the gates of consciousness it takes a permanent 
residence there, far more securely fastened in than the 
substance of the body, which is replaced several times be- 
tween birth and death. 

It was from Lamport that I first heard of the Maggidim, 



the wandering Jewish preachers of East European Jewry, 
those fabulists and moralists and sayers of parables and 
popular educators who were to the Jews of the ghettos and 
Shtetlach what the minstrels and vagantes and minnesing- 
ers were to the medieval European masses, the one differ- 
ence being that the Maggidim were of a strictly religious 
cast. The most famous of them was the Maggid of Dubno, 
and his name was forever on Lamport's lips, for, said 
Lamport, there was not a human problem or situation 
that the Dubno Maggid had not resolved or illuminated in 
one of his countless parables. 

Uncle Leon once voiced to Lamport the plaint of the 
Prophet that the wicked prosper while the righteous suf- 
fer, and Lamport answered that this was only fitting and 
proper and in the nature of things. Uncle Leon began a 
tirade: such a point of view was incomprehensible, an af- 
front to the Ruler of the world and to the intelligence of 
man. Lamport held up a hand. 

"Kocht sich nit — take it easy, Mr. Rothman, and I will 
tell you how the Dubno Maggid explains it, so that the 
simplest soul may understand. For the Dubno Maggid, his 
memory be a blessing to us, spoke to the common people, 
but in such a way that even the wise could learn. There 
were once, he tells us, two men who loved each other 
dearly, and whenever they met they exchanged the most 
affectionate salutations. But one morning, as they encoun- 
tered each other on the street, one of them fell upon the 
other with such curses and insults as only the lowest men 
and the bitterest enemies bestow on each other. The 
victim of the assault was at first astounded, then indignant, 
but out of his love he remained silent; he did not raise his 
hand or his voice, he did not defend himself, he uttered 
never a word, but went home, saying, as you have just 
said: 'This is incomprehensible.' But he also said in his 



heart: 'There must be a reason for it. I cannot see it, but 
the reason is surely there.' Some time later the two friends 
again met in the street, and to the utter amazement of 
the one who had been insulted, the other greeted him 
with the customary expressions of affection. 'What is this?' 
asked the insulted one. 'Why did you treat me so villain- 
ously the other day? What cause had I given you?' 'None 
at all,' answered his friend. 'This is how it was. Shortly 
before I met you I was cursed and vilified on the street 
by an evil man whom I had never harmed. I was filled 
with indignation, but I held my peace, thinking: "If I 
answer him as he deserves, he will become more offensive, 
and who knows how it will end?" Then I came face to face 
with you and I let my indignation boil over, and I poured 
it all out on you, knowing you would not answer lest you 
provoke me to still greater rage.' That is the moshel, the 
parable, my dear Mr. Rothman, and now I will give you 
the nimshal, the application of the parable. God sees the 
wickedness of the wicked, and He hears their insults, but 
He will not argue with them or punish them in this world, 
for that would only drive them into greater wickedness. 
So He turns from them and pours out His indignation on 
the righteous, who so love Him that they endure their un- 
merited afflictions without complaint. Thus they are God's 
partners in saving the wicked from complete destruction, 
and this is what constitutes their righteousness. Now do 
you see?" 

It was thus, or approximately thus, that I heard the 
parable recently, and I was carried back as in a vivid wak- 
ing dream to Uncle Moritz's yard, and the heap of rags, 
and Lamport and Uncle Leon. I cannot tell whether Uncle 
Leon "saw," for the rest of the conversation has sunk to 
lower levels, perhaps never to be plumbed in this life. I 
surmise that he had his objections and that in the end 



Lamport fell back on his Teiku, as so many others have 
done on this haunting and tormenting problem. 

Another and somewhat fuller evocation was granted me 
when I heard from an old Maggid — the breed is almost 
extinct — the parable of the King and the Expert. The a 
propos was a remark by Uncle Leon that even a fool could 
make big money and a deluded world would forever stand 
in awe of his cleverness. "On that point," said Lamport, 
"he of Dubno disagrees with you, and he proves that sooner 
or later the fool comes to grief. Listen and learn. Once 
upon a time there was a king who was a passionate lover 
of rare and precious stones. The king's jeweler, who built 
up his collection for him, was the greatest expert of his 
time, and since even jewelry experts are only mortal, this 
one, too, stretched out his feet one day and took himself 
off to the place where there is no buying and selling and no 
eating of beigels. Great was the consternation of the king. 
Where was he to find another expert? And how was he to 
set about it? A wise old councillor, himself no jewelry 
expert, came to the king's rescue, 'Adoni ha-melech, my 
Lord the King, take the most costly of your jewels, and 
give it into the hand of one of your trusted servants, and 
let him go into the city and offer it for sale at auction. The 
rest will follow.' The king took the advice of the old 
councillor, and a servant went into the city with the gem. 
Now it so happened that in this same city there was a rich 
man, a fool, whom everybody considered very clever. He 
too was a lover of jewelry, but because he was a fool, he 
thought he knew everything and never made use of ex- 
perts; his collection therefore consisted of diamonds with 
flaws and even of pieces of glass cunningly cut to look like 
diamonds. When the servant put up the king's gem for 
sale, the bidding began at a high level and the fool, hear- 
ing the figures go up, was duly impressed and said craftily 



to himself: 'This must be a wonderful stone. Whatever 
they offer, it must be worth more, for the buyer surely 
intends to resell.' So he entered the bidding and raised 
every offer by ten per cent. The dealers at last dropped out, 
and the fool remained the buyer. When it came to paying, 
he brought out his rubbishy collection of flawed diamonds 
and pasteboard pieces and said: 'Choose! Here is more than 
enough.' But far from being enough, you understand, it 
was so short that all the other possessions of the fool could 
not make up the difference. So not only did he have to 
pay a heavy fine, but at one stroke he lost his reputation 
as a clever man. Now do you see?" 

This time Uncle Leon "saw." He closed his eyes in a 
spasm of delight, he rubbed his hands as if he had just 
done a good stroke of business, and exclaimed: "Gold, Mr. 
Lamport, pure gold! But tell me, who became the king's 

"The dealer who made the last bid before the fool." 

Uncle Leon sighed: "Ah! Not for nothing do they say 
that learning is the best merchandise." 

It was from the Maggidim that my people learned to 
exercise their imagination in the folklore. Their treatment 
of certain Biblical characters was, as I have indicated, 
arbitrary, and I have my own Teiku questions on some of 
the results. Why, for instance, did they always say "drunk 
as Lot" and never "drunk as Noah," or Ahasuerus, or Nabal, 
the brutish husband of Abigail? Of all these it is told that 
they became drunk on at least one occasion; but it was 
Noah who planted the vine, and he was the first of all 
mortals to get drunk. Similarly, they said "Balaam the 
wicked" and "Haman the wicked," but never Pharaoh the 
wicked, though they held Pharaoh to have been wickeder 
than either Balaam or Haman. Balaam had been hired to 
pronounce a curse on the Jews, but he choked on it and 



pronounced a blessing instead, to the astonishment and 
fury of his employer, Balak, King of Edom. Haman had 
planned to liquidate only a part of the Jewish people — that 
which lived in the Persian Empire, But Pharaoh's plans 
had been directed against the Jewish people in its entirety; 
nevertheless, he remained plain "Pharaoh," or, formally, 
"Pharaoh, King of Egypt." On the other hand, one can- 
not but approve of their characterization of Ahasuerus as 
the melech tippesh, the royal dope. But what did they have 
against Vyzoosoo, the youngest of Haman's ten sons, who 
were hanged together with their father on the gallows, 
fifty cubits high, which had been prepared by Haman for 
Mordecai? Vyzoosoo (Vyzatha in the standard translitera- 
tion) is just one name in a string of ten; neither he nor 
his brothers are ever mentioned again, and he alone has 
been singled out, without rhyme or reason, for everlasting 
disparagement. In the shadier part of the Yiddish vernac- 
ular a Vyzoosoo is a special kind of fool, the kind to 
whom "liberal shepherds give a grosser name." 

I pick out faces and names at random. Their ever- 
presentness to us obliterated the centuries that separated 
them. They come before me in ones and in groups. There 
is Eleazar ben Azaryah, out of the Passover Hagaddah; at 
the age of eighteen he stood first among the scholars of 
Israel, so that they elected him Head of the Academy of 
Yabneh, that center of the spirit which enabled the Jewish 
people to outwit and outlive their Roman conquerors. 
Young Eleazar ben Azaryah found the honor acutely em- 
barrassing. How was he, a beardless youth, to stand before 
his elders expounding the Law? But God came to his 
rescue, and the night before his induction caused him to 
sprout a septuagenarian beard, a face-saving beard, and 
none of us asked whether the rest of him was transformed 
to suit. There is Rabbi Akiba, another master of the 



Torah. He is the opposite of Eleazar ben Azaryah, for until 
the age of forty he was an illiterate shepherd, with a brutish 
hatred of scholars. He could not see one, he confessed in 
later years, without wanting to "bite him like an ass." 
Then, with the encouragement of his bride-to-be, a young 
woman of noble family who foresaw his illustrious future, 
he began to study, and by the time he was eighty he ranked 
for knowledge of the Law with Moses our Teacher. He 
married, and taught for another forty years, and at a hun- 
dred and twenty he died a martyr in the Hadrianic per- 
secutions. Near him stands his pupil Bar Kochba, the 
leader of the rebellion against Hadrian the Destroyer 
whose name is never mentioned, to this day, without a 
fervent "May his bones be broken," as if they have not 
been dust this many a century. And there are the sages of 
B'nai Brak, who once sat out a Passover night expatiating 
on the wonders of the exodus, so that their pupils had to 
break in on them respectfully with: "Gentlemen! The 
time has come for morning prayers." There, also in the 
Hagaddah, is the gentle Hillel, a man incapable of an 
impatient word even under the grossest provocation. A 
low buffoon once undertook, on a wager, to put him into a 
rage, and one night called him repeatedly out of bed to ply 
him with ridiculous questions, but Hillel answered him 
sweetly throughout, and in the end was rewarded with a 
curse for his imperturbability. "Better," finished Hillel 
softly, "that you should lose your wager than I my tem- 

Every member of the supporting cast on this enormous, 
timeless stage is clearly limned, and no matter how minor 
his role and to what age he belongs, he is indispensable; 
the dramatis personae would be incomplete without him. 
We felt about them in the irrational way one feels about 
the members of one's family — that we would have missed 



them if they had never been born. But it was with the 
greatest figures that we felt most at home; and just as we 
turned Abraham the revolutionary into a lovable, kind- 
hearted grandfather type, we domesticated Moses into the 
apotheosis of the homey rebhe. We acknowledged the awe- 
someness of his deeds, we saw him confronting Pharaoh, 
and commanding the waters of the Red Sea, and descend- 
ing from the lightnings of Sinai with the tablets of the 
Law; but we treated him as the children of a home-loving 
Prime Minister might treat their father. His greatness 
belongs to his business hours. They are proud of his 
official standing, but to them he is predominantly the 
paterfamilias, worrying over their schoolmarks. Had we 
contemplated Moses as the Bible presents him, we would 
have been terrified by him. As with Abraham and Moses, 
so with Elijah the Prophet. He was to us no wild man of 
the desert, no slayer of false prophets, no rebuker of kings; 
he put off those functions when he came to us as the con- 
soler and helper of the poor, and as the herald of the 

The ever-presentness of the fathers of the clan, their 
contemporaneousness with us, was consistent with our 
awareness of a past so immense that it dwarfed into noth- 
ingness the historical time-span of other peoples. We 
moved tacitly among the millennia, while they, powerful, 
majestic, but evanescent, were cramped into the centuries. 
That was how my rehbe put it, and I objected to the ten- 
to-one proportion. I reminded, or rather informed, him 
that our history was, at most, only twice as long as Eng- 
land's. I expected him to deny it, or be taken aback, but 
he answered with a tolerant smile: "Peasant brain! If your 
grandfather is a venerable ninety and mine a miraculous 
hundred and eighty, there's actually no comparison at all!" 
That left me speechless. 


At the Passover table my father used to interpolate into 
the service a Yiddish song I have never heard elsewhere, 
nor have I been able to trace it to its source. 

Full four hundred years did Pharaoh 
Bathe himself in Jewish blood. 
Till the day of retribution — 
First-born slain and Red Sea flood. 
Israel, mocking, calls to mind 
What befalls him and his kind. 
Psalms of David, words of sages. 
Guarded us across the ages. 
What can kings and tyrants do 
In their rage against the Jew, 
God's word holding firm and true 
Through eternity. 

Kings and tyrants could of course do much against the 
Jew, and had done it, as my people very well knew. What, 
then, did my father mean? In part, that we were losing all 
the battles and winning the war; but, more than that, he 
used the word Jew to indicate an indestructible pledge. 
My people saw their Jewishness as a pledge given by their 
ancestors at Sinai, binding on subsequent generations till 
the end of time. Jewish history. Biblical and post-Biblical, 
revolved about this pledge, around repudiations of it, 
around repudiations of the repudiations, and on its fulfill- 
ment depended the fate of humanity. God would keep His 
word if the Jew kept his. Hence, the prayer "Thou hast 
always saved us from enemies stronger than we" really 
meant: "Thou hast always saved a remnant of us, so that 
the pledge might not be lost." What a megalomania of 
responsibility! But it is after all only the kind of megal- 
omania which election posters seek to awaken in the in- 
dividual citizen. It was as if a finger were forever pointing 



at my people from a celestial hoarding: "Your vote can 
change history!" 

They could neither live up to the pledge nor get rid of it. 
They knew themselves to be unworthy, but there was no 
way of disowning the commitment. They simply could 
not believe that the Jewish people had survived so long 
to no special purpose, for this would have implied that God 
had created a madhouse and called it history. So there they 
were, in Glodorlui, in Macheen, in Lower Strangeways, 
waiting and believing. 

"Believing" was only part of it. "Belonging" is equally 
important. They belonged to that beloved, densely popu- 
lated world which stretched back to the beginning. This 
was their home in the cosmos; it gave them their human 
form. Loyalty and affection held them there, and, more 
than that, the terror of becoming utter nullities if they 
left it. Out of it, they would have nothing to talk about 
but their suffering and their sordid economic struggles. 

The darkest word in their vocabulary was meshumad 
(they pronounced it meshimid), literally "the destroyed 
one," by usage "the apostate," the Jew who had himself 
baptized. The literal meaning lurked behind the idio- 
matic; a meshumad had destroyed his memories, hence 
himself. He had turned his back on that which had made 
him one with the patriarchs and prophets, the kings and 
saints and sinners and sages and fools among whom Jews 
had always lived. Nameless and naked he went forth in his 
perversity into an alien world, where his ancestors were 
either unknown or mentioned with contumely. 

To this attitude, too, I objected strenuously, and in an 
argument with Lamport the rag dealer pointed out that 
Christians spoke reverently of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, 
of David and Solomon and Isaiah. "I know it," said Lam- 
port, "I know it. But the Christian thinks of the patriarchs 



and prophets in his own way. To begin with, he turns them 
into non-Jews; and he disowns any kinship with them. 
Does an Englishman talk o£ Abraham our Father as his 
ancestor? Does he tell his children that if there hadn't 
been an exodus they would still be slaves in Egypt? And 
anyway, the only use the Christian has for our ancestors is 
that they lived and died in order that Jesus might be born. 
Where does that leave us for the last two thousand years?" 

"Faith," "belief," "credo" — these are words which can 
be applied to my childhood world only from the outside. 
My relatives spoke of their "Jewishness," which must be 
described from the inside. Sometimes I have asked myself 
whether they would have gone to the scaffold or the pyre 
rather than apostatize. For the large majority the answer 
is, certainly, "No." Would they, outwardly denying their 
Jewishness under duress, have felt desolated, soiled, and 
debased? The answer is, as certainly, "Yes, all of them." 
Given the alternative, the same large majority would have 
preferred exile and beggary to baptism. Given no such 
alternative, a number would have accepted death. 

But who among those I remember had such stuff in him? 
How difficult to think of such ordinary people as my rebbe, 
my grandfather, my mother, my father, in that exalted 
role. Still, I know with the utmost certainty that there 
were some who simply could not have kissed the cross in 
token of submission. They could not have done it! If they 
had tried, they would have fainted or gone rigid in hyster- 
ical paralysis. I hear someone say: "Then it would not have 
been a question of willing or not willing. It would have 
been mechanical." And I answer: "They would have been 
true martyrs nonetheless." 


® 119 ® 




JL JLow DID I cram so much into my boyhood years? I 
seem to have had time for everything. There was school 
five days a week, from nine to twelve and from two to half 
past four; there was cheder six days a week, from six to 
eight on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, 
an afternoon session on Saturdays and a morning session 
on Sundays. (My poor rebbe; he earned his shilling or 
shilling and sixpence a week from each pupil.) There were 
"the hills," there were the penny weeklies, there was 
much miscellaneous reading, and not a little daydreaming. 
Until the age of ten and a half I lived vividly in every- 
thing except school and cheder. A faint echo of far-off 
raptures reaches me and makes a stirring in my blood. 
"The hills"! That wild expansion of heart and lungs and 
imagination when I scrambled up them, oblivious to the 
penalties that waited for me at home! In his youth, Heine 
felt that he could eat all the elephants in Hindustan and 
pick his teeth with the spire of Strassburg Cathedral. I, in 
my boyhood, felt that my running feet kept the world 
spinning. On "the hills" I was master of an illimitable 
present in which I forgot hunger and thirst, home and 
school and cheder. I forgot them also when I plunged into 


the penny weeklies and the doings of Tom Merry and 
Harry Wharton and Billy Bunter and Arthur Augustus 
d'Arcy. I would read walking in the street, bumping into 
lampposts in my addled absorption. I was at St. Jim's, or 
at Greyfriars, I was making a century at cricket, scoring the 
winning goal with five seconds to go, discovering and de- 
nouncing the rotter from the rival rowing team who had 
surreptitiously sawed through the oars of our leading 

At school I stayed consistently near the bottom of the 
class; at cheder I was considered a clod. My parents wailed: 
"It's de heels, accursed may they be, de heels, and football, 
and cricket, and little fishes." I loudly exonerated "the 
hills"; my playmates spent as much time on them as I, and 
some of them were at the top of the class. My teachers 
blamed the penny weeklies, and for them I had the same 
defense; among the top-ranking boys in the class were 
cheder companions of mine who were equally addicted to 
the weeklies. I was willing to pass for a dolt rather than 
dock my playtime or change my reading habits. 

My early school years have left me only scattered 
memories. Miss Browne of Standard Three wore green; 
she was haughty and and handsome; once she wrote on the 

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, 
And waste its sweetness on the desert air 

and I whispered to myself: "How true; I'm the only one 
who understands." Miss Porrit of Standard Two was narky 
(mean), and accepted apples from the pupils; Mr. Fisher 
of Standard Four A was "champion," even "bleddy-well 
champion," but I was in Standard Four B. Mr. George 
Sharpies, the headmaster (he might have sat for James 
Joyce's Mr. Deasy), was a kind of divinity with a life-pat- 



tern all his own. On certain unpredictable mornings he lay 
in ambush for late-comers; he would station a monitor at 
the entrance and we were not permitted to proceed down 
the corridor to class. We would line up, and at a quarter 
past nine Mr. Sharpies would appear, carrying a thin, flex- 
ible cane. We would hold out a hand for a single swish; no 
excuses, no reprimands, just a brief, silent, and tacit trans- 
action. He had a good aim, and would hit us sometimes 
on the fingertips, which really hurt, and sometimes on the 
palm, which wasn't too bad. There were fingertip morn- 
ings and palm mornings, and whether you were late by one 
minute or ten made no difference; everyone got the same 
swishing. We took this ritual to be the duty or prerogative 
of all headmasters, and when we learned that Mr. Harris of 
the Jews' School and Mr. Shair of Southall Street School 
did not perform it as the one or exercise it as the other, we 
thought the less of them for it. Mr. Sharpies had a fat 
brother William, whom we called Tubby, and who was 
an ordinary teacher in the same school. Once, for what 
was called "object lesson," he brought a live rabbit into 
class, choked it to death, and dissected it for us. A girl 

School was suddenly and completely transfigured for 
me when I moved up one autumn into Miss Clarke's class. 
Standard Five. The very building became unrecognizable, 
as I must have been to anyone who saw me hurrying 
toward it in the morning, radiant-faced, well ahead of the 
bell. Never again did I hold out my hand to Mr. George 
Sharpies, and try to shove it forward on fingertip mornings 
to receive the cane on my palm. Never again did I search 
the hills for something we called alum, which was sup- 
posed to anesthetize the skin. Honor and love to the 
memory of Kate Clarke; she was one of the happiest acci- 
dents of my life. 



I worshipped her from the first day, and could only ex- 
press my emotion — how inadequately! — by rising to the 
top of the class. I was glad that I had come to her with a 
poor record, with a reputation for slovenliness and in- 
attentiveness. I wished the record had been poorer still, to 
make the contrast greater. Toward the end of that year I 
was haunted by the dolorous prospect of losing her, and 
when we heard that she would move with us into Standard 
Six, I felt like uttering a prayer of thanksgiving. 

Rising to the top of the class was no trick at all; it was 
just as easy to be there as at the bottom. I played as much 
as before, I read as many weeklies, and I did as badly as 
ever at cheder. The transformation was exclusively a school 
phenomenon; during school hours I was obsessed by a 
single need — to please Miss Clarke, to do the best com- 
position in the class, to have the right answer when she 
called on me, particularly if she had called on others be- 
fore me and their answers had been wrong. How my excite- 
ment mounted as one wrong answer followed another, 
how I trembled lest some male or female oaf, who hadn't 
a thousandth part of my love for Miss Clarke, should 
anticipate the words trembling on my lips; what a sunburst 
there was in the room when, still unsatisfied. Miss Clarke 
turned the pointer toward me and the right answer came 
tumbling out. Correspondingly dark were my moments of 
failure; their memory rankled for days. 

Once she called me third or fourth to the blackboard to 
draw a circle around a triangle. I came forward in a sickly 
panic, with not an idea in my head. I picked up the ruler 
and compass from her table and turned my back on the 
class; then somehow my trembling hands executed, quite 
of themselves, the bisection of the two sides, extended the 
perpendiculars to the meeting point, and drew the circle. 
I had done it! I made blindly for my seat and heard Miss 



Clarke say, in a pleased voice: "You'd better leave the 
ruler and compass with me." But the culmination was yet 
to come. Dazed as I was, I had wit enough to hand her the 
compass with the point toward me, and her "Thank you" 
was for that not less than for my performance at the black- 
board. Oh, the flush that went through me, sweeping from 
the roots of my hair to my toes! What are Nobel Prizes and 
peerages beside such triumphs? 

I cannot judge whether Miss Clarke was an unusually 
gifted teacher, one of those blessed spirits whose lives are 
one long, obscure, irreplaceable service to generation after 
generation of school children. She was not wildly popular, 
like Mr. Fisher, nor unpopular, like Miss Porrit, but 
popularity is not the measure of a teacher's worth. School- 
mates with whom I have talked about her in later years 
do not recall her as a magic influence. I can only say that 
but for her I would probably have grown up an illiterate. 

It was a great moment for me when the news of my 
transformation reached my home. I was vindicated; I had 
proved in my person that one could be at the top of the 
class without taking off time from "the hills," football, 
cricket, and little fishes. But such crowing as I felt myself 
entitled to was soon choked off. If I wasn't such a dolt after 
all, why didn't I do better at cheder, reports from which 
also reached home, delivered in person by the rebhe him- 
self? And again, if I did so well at school without giving up 
"the hills," how much better would I not do if I gave them 
up? Further, how unbecoming it was for a boy with a good 
head on his shoulders to behave like a young heathen. The 
injustice of it! I would have been just as well off at home 
if I had remained at the bottom of the class; no, better, 
because before this new and outrageous principle of 
noblesse oblige intruded into my life I had been more or 
less adjusted to the status of a dolt. It is some measure of 



my adoration of Miss Clarke that I did not hold her 
accountable for the backfire from my sudden and un- 
expected eminence, or so much as dream of returning to a 
more comfortable ignominy. 

Miss Clarke lived in rooms above Chanot's violin shop, 
right opposite Uncle Moritz. I found that out when she 
asked me once to carry a parcel home for her, and gave 
me a penny for my trouble. She slipped the coin so quickly 
into my hand that I hadn't time to protest, and when I got 
downstairs I was overwhelmed with shame. Didn't she 
know that for her I would have lugged sackloads of bricks 
to the ends of the earth and accounted myself her debtor? 
I didn't spend that penny. I kept it in a wooden box until 
it somehow disappeared. 

It was Miss Clarke who in the second year suggested 
that I try for a free-tuition scholarship at the Manchester 
Municipal Secondary School; suggested rather than urged 
because she knew we were poor, and I would have to win 
what was called an Exhibition as well as a scholarship. The 
Exhibition carried with it five pounds for the first year 
and would offset part of my forfeited earnings. My parents 
were hesitant; they suspected that I had begun to use my 
head too late; besides, "the hills" were still there, and the 
penny weeklies, habits and compulsions I could not shake 
off. I was hesitant too, fearing the disgrace of failure. I 
would have felt more confident if I could have had Miss 
Clarke as my examiner, not, however, because I would 
have expected her to favor me unfairly. I wanted desper- 
ately to please her by winning, but I needed to please her 
face to face, immediately, not indirectly and across an 
interval of suspense. I wanted to see her dark, somewhat 
severe and old-maidish face light up at my correct answers, 
while she glanced away with a little smile directed at some 
invisible witness with the unspoken comment: "I can 



usually rely on him." The approval of strangers, assuming 
I could get it, was insipid by comparison, and I went forth 
on the fateful morning as if to be sentenced rather than 
examined. It was a sensation with which I was to become 
dolorously familiar. 

My miscellaneous reading included, among others, Hans 
Christian Andersen, Samuel Smiles, Susan Coolidge, the 
Grimm Brothers, Rider Haggard, Jules Verne, and Rhoda 
Broughton. Of individual books I recall most clearly What 
Katy Did, What Katy Did Next, John Halifax, Gentleman, 
The Lamplighter, Cranford, King Solomon's Mines, The 
Hero of Crompton School, and Cometh Up As a Flower. 
I wept over Cometh Up As a Flower and John Halifax, 
Gentleman and The Lamplighter. Pictures and phrases 
still stick in my mind; some I can assign to their proper 
place, some are homeless; "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down 
your hair," and "Eternity," from Hans Christian Ander- 
sen; little Ursula (?) cutting her hand at the door as she 
struggled with the stern old servant woman who would 
not let her give a piece of bread to little John Halifax, 
starving in the snow; Nadin, "the cowardly bully," guilty 
of the Peterloo massacre of peaceful Manchester workers — 
that was in The Lamplighter; Allan Quatermain in his 
duel to the death with the Zulu chief, in King Solomon's 
Mines; but whose was the kettle "merrily wobbling on the 
hob"? And who was it threw a sack of grain out of 
the upper-floor window into the river rather than let the 
hungry villagers rob him of it? I have learned not to look 
into those books when chance brings them my way; I 
shrink from anything that threatens to spoil the sweet 
memory of my boyhood reading. It hurt me to find in one 
of Zangwill's essays a take-off on Cometh Up As a Flower, 
which he re-entitled, cruelly, Boometh As a Bumble Bee; 
and when I was in the country of King Solomon's Mines 



and saw the Zimbabwe ruins and the primitive kraals of 
the Zulus (they were a shockingly peaceful lot), I refused to 
associate them with Rider Haggard. 

The juvenile section of the Free Library on Cheetham 
Hill Road did not lend out books in those days; you had to 
read them on the premises, and I remember happy hours 
I spent there, though I cannot for the life of me imagine 
where I fitted them in. We sat on hard benches at long 
tables, and the librarian was a small, bandy-legged red- 
whiskered man, Mr. Jones, whom we called Puggy 
Whiskers. The room was below ground level, and boys 
would sneak down the steps, open the door, yell: "Puggy 
Whiskers, your mamma wants you for kreplach," and 
scuttle up the stairs, laughing like hyenas. Mr. Jones would 
turn as red as his beard, his face would work spasmodically, 
and he would start up as if a pin had been jabbed into his 
back. Sometimes he lurked at the door in the hope of 
laying his hands on one of the miscreants, but always in 
vain; the wretched man did not know, apparently, that he 
could be watched from the ground-level windows, and the 
assault on the peace would be made only when he was be- 
hind his desk, from which he could never get to the door 
fast enough. He once asked me: "What are they shouting? 
What is kreplak}" I told him that kreplach were patties 
filled with meat. He shook his head in disbelief; he must 
have read into the word a meaning profoundly offensive 
to himself and his mother, who was probably dead. Forty 
years ago there was in the Bronx Zoo a gorilla called Baldy, 
and people used to tease it for the pleasure of watching its 
gibbering rages. Baldy reminded me of Puggy Whiskers; 
but I laughed neither at Puggy Whiskers nor at Baldy. In 
my Puggy Whiskers days I was annoyed by the interruptions 
and in my Baldy days I was indignant at the cruelty of the 



I have told how, on winning the scholarship and Exhibi- 
tion, I dropped the boys of St, Jim's and of Greyfriars as 
abruptly, ungratefully, and priggishly as Prince Hal 
dropped Falstaff and Poins on becoming Henry the Fifth. 
"Never came reformation in a flood/With such a heady 
current." Now, the truth is that I have always found it 
hard to swallow Shakespeare's story of that complete 
dramatic conversion. There must have been, I argue, 
twinges of regret, twilight nostalgias, even an occasional 
visit, a la Haroun-al-Raschid, to Eastcheap ale houses 
where he had not been seen before. That conversation 
with the simple soldier Bates during the night before 
Agincourt — does it not prove that Henry remained thor- 
oughly at home with the common people, and mingled 
with them so naturally that no suspicion of his identity 
ever crossed their minds? I therefore will not, on reflection, 
take an oath that I never again peeped into the penny 
weeklies for a glimpse of the low company I had forsworn, 
though the temptation did grow less as I found the same 
intellectual and moral values in Kipling and Henty and 
Tennyson. Nor did I, in spite of my vow, immediately 
abjure "the hills," and football, and cricket, though their 
attraction did taper off as new influences came into my life. 

On the day we got the great news, my father impulsively 
gave me a shilling, which I accepted with stupefaction and 
alarm. The vastness of the sum impressed on me the 
solemnity of the occasion, and played some part in re- 
shaping my outlook on life. I spread the shilling as far as 
it would go on second-hand, third-hand, and fourth-hand 
books, among them two tattered Blatchford pamphlets and 
a coverless astronomy primer almost as old as its subject 
matter. Why Blatchford? Why astronomy? The answer is 
the cadaverous young Shudehill bookseller, into whose 
shop I stumbled more or less by accident, and whose name 



I have completely forgotten. God rest his evangelical soul; 
he has his share in my life's history. What if he had been 
of a religious rather than a rationalist turn of mind? AVhat 
if he had been neither and had sold me a job lot of travel 
books? I am quite sure that in my suddenly aroused passion 
for self-improvement I would have read them with the 
same fervor and perhaps with the same lasting effect. As it 
was, Blatchford and astronomy set their stamp on me in 
the years that followed. 

I did not become an avowed socialist and atheist im- 
mediately; the words were so abhorrent in our world that 
I censored them in my own mind. I accepted all the arg-u- 
ments, I rejected the implication of their sum. Some 
months still had to pass; I had to become a member of our 
high-school debating society. I had to discover that I had 
the gift of the gab, and learn the tingling delight of stand- 
ing before an audience and delivering myself of daring 

It would have been better for me not to have been 
provided with an audience at that age. The debating 
society developed the show-off in me; it encouraged the 
quick retort and the muddled idea. Nor, in spite of my 
affection for them, can I think with gratitude of the foolish 
people who arranged street-corner meeetings for me. They 
were decent and earnest and, with all their revolutionary 
slogans, humble; they meant well and they did me no 
good. The responsibility of indulgent adults in the spread 
of juvenile delinquency is nowhere clearer than in the 
case of boy and girl orators and evangelists. 

This was the time when the itiner conflict set in between 
my two worlds, the Jewish and the non-Jewish, so that I 
quarreled with myself as well as with the community. The 
Tom Merrys and Harry Whartons had had nothing to 
say to my Jewish world; Blatchford had much to say, 



though indirectly, for I do not recall that he expressed any 
views on the Jewish question. As a socialist, science popu- 
larizer, and atheist, he taught me to see Jewishness as an 
"effete" (I loved that word) and obstructive phenomenon, 
an obstacle in the path of human progress. It was, there- 
fore, "Down with Jewishness!" — though of course not with 
individual Jews, except in their capacity as capitalists, 
lackies of capitalism, or disseminators of religion, that 
opium of the masses. There were as yet no real capitalists 
in my community; there were, I suppose, a number of 
lackies of capitalism, and practically everyone was a dis- 
seminator of religion. Thus, there was no one to benefit by 
my tolerant distinction. My rebbe, and others, logically de- 
nounced me as a little anti-Semite; if they had been 
familiar with the jargon they might have added: "Objec- 

Without knowing it, I happened to be following good 
Biblical precedent. "Have I any pleasure at all that the 
wicked should die? saith the Lord God; and not rather 
that he should return from his ways and live?" But it must 
be admitted that in the Bible it is often difficult to dis- 
tinguish between God's hatred of sin and His hatred of 
sinners; and where His example is so confusing, how can 
we expect ordinary mortals to keep separate their dislike 
of Jewishness and their benevolence toward Jews? 

It was true that I didn't like being a Jew; on the other 
hand, I didn't know how to be anything else. Nor could I 
keep away from Jewish life. Throughout my high-school 
and college years I was forever joining, leaving, and re- 
joining Jewish youth groups, Zionist, cultural, and 
dramatic, and during membership periods I preached 
socialism, atheism, and assimilation to my fellow-members. 
I have seen this variety of psychological muddle in others 
— ^Jews who satisfy and accentuate their Jewishness by de- 



voting their lives to the demolition of Jewishness in others. 

I was a patchwork of contradictions. I pointed my accus- 
ing finger at the well-to-do and was ashamed of myself and 
my parents for not being of them; I despised Kipling the 
Sahib and would have liked my parents to be English 
enough to be thrilled like me by Gunga Din, that expres- 
sion of British imperialism on the gutter level; I had fits of 
patriotism (Blatchford was himself something of a jingo, 
had been a soldier, and had written Kiplingesque stories 
of army life), but my people's admiration for England was 
nevertheless an abject thing in my eyes; under duress I 
took part in school sports, and was irked because my 
parents were unmoved by the glad tidings that "our side 
won"; under no duress, I played cricket with schoolmates 
and didn't want my parents to know; I was always on the 
side of the oppressed, but the Jews with their obstinate 
insistence on being Jewish were responsible for anti- 
Semitism; I was a pacifist, but the pacifism of my people 
was one of its outstanding defects, and my father got no 
credit for being an exception; as a pacifist I grinned at 
myself for marching joyously in the Jewish Lads' Brigade 
to the stirring rhythms of bugle and drum (what fun it 
was!), but I was wounded when my parents smiled. 

All this time, at high school, as well as later at college, 
I read hugely, I addressed socialist meetings, I worked dur- 
ing elections, and I alternated between high exaltation and 
sullen despair. Life was a marvelous gift, life was an ob- 
scene cruelty; mankind was the highest product of the 
cosmic purpose, mankind was a maggoty crawling on the 
surface of an obscure planet doomed to early extinction; 
I was a free-willed participant in the meaningful and end- 
less process of creation, I was a comical little contraption 
emitting sound waves into the void. The moral law was a 
built-in feature of the universe — this was crystal-clear to 



me in my mystical moments; the moral law was a wretched 
superstition — this was crystal-clear to me in my materialist 
moments. In its bourgeois form, the moral law was also a 
capitalistic device for the befuddlement of the working 
classes, while in its general form, as a superstitious heritage 
handed down from primitive societies, it turned my high- 
falutin speeches on liberty, equality, and fraternity into 
the rantings of a comedian. 

In my moods of despair I had no argument against any 
form of immorality; the universe was indifferent to love 
and hate. Theoretically I was ready to lie, cheat, steal, kill; 
to the extent that I did not, I was a weakling and a fool; 
and I was angry with myself because this limitless permis- 
siveness of the universe made me wretched instead of 
happy. At the same time, I wanted the fat aldermen who 
were guzzling turtle soup while factory girls were starving, 
to be in the wrong; but how could they be in the wrong if 
there was neither right nor wrong? It was exasperating 
beyond words that fat aldermen should in their stupidity 
have hit on the sensible course while enjoying the extra 
bonus of thinking themselves morally in the right! 

My attempts to discuss these matters with Ellen Wilkin- 
son and Walton-Newbold and other fellow-socialists ran 
into a blank wall. Their formula was: "Morality is based 
on self-interest. If everyone were immoral, society would 
disintegrate, and where would you be?" My answer was: 
"My being immoral, especially if I'm clever enough to 
conceal it, will make only the slightest dent in society, but 
it will give me a tremendous personal advantage." Where- 
upon they said: "You're talking like a lousy bourgeois, not 
like a good socialist," and my answer was: "I'm as good a 
socialist as you." So I was, or believed myself to be, in my 
other moods. It would have relieved me if they had con- 
fessed to sharing my misgivings; as it was, I suspected that 


they did, and were secretive about it, in which they were 
being cleverer than I. That, I said to myself, isn't right of 
them — but what am I talking about if there's neither right 
nor wrong? 

At bottom I knew that my moral scruples derived from 
my upbringing, which had been Jewish, and this was one 
of the roots of my anti-Jewishness. I had been made a fool 
of by Jewishness, as I would have been by Christianity if 
my upbringing had been Christian. 

It all sounds silly and adolescent, but in substance the 
problems are fundamental; the discussion has been going 
on for ages, it will go on as long as men think. 


® 133 ® 



i s 

i Ozir Shtetl Roots t 

i $ 

o W 6 


JL LOST interest in my father's readings at about the time 
when I could have stayed up as long as I wanted — an early 
lesson in the illusions of hope. I had no patience, either, 
with the homely philosophizing of the grown-ups. Won- 
derfully and fortunately enough I retained my partiality 
for my mother's conversation, a circumstance which intro- 
duces a puzzle into the development of my Yiddish. 

If I had let the language fall into disuse at the age of 
thirteen, it would have been natural for me to have had 
only a childish command of it at nineteen, when I met 
Uncle Berel again. But my mother spoke a rich folk 
Yiddish, and I enjoyed listening to her. Why did I have 
to relearn my Yiddish in America? Where was the block? 

It is barely possible that I did not really follow my 
mother's Yiddish word for word and phrase for phrase, but 
grasped the meaning of the sentences and recalled words 
and phrases in later years. A second explanation, which 
could include the first, is equally plausible. I repressed my 
Yiddish except as a channel of communication with my 
mother; I wanted to demonstrate my high-principled dis- 
approval of what Yiddish stood for — ignorance, backward- 
ness, poverty, superstition. My mother's Yiddish, however. 


was exempt from these charges. She disinfected it, as it 
were, by her personality and her tolerance. She was 
troubled, of course, to hear me called a socialist and an 
unbeliever; it saddened her that I wasn't going to be a 
" Kreiserrahbiner" ; but she took it in the spirit of "we can't 
have everything," which was remarkable in one who had 
so little. 

My revolt from Jewishness was abrupt, my return to it 
proceeded by stages. I was becoming dissatisfied with the 
contradictions and spiritual barrenness of materialism, and 
it was difficult to hit on an alternative, I was looking for 
roots; it was inconceivable at first that I could find them 
in such petty things as my people and its past; and as if their 
pettiness was not enough, they were steeped in religion, 
that most lamentable and calamitous of human errors. 

Two episodes out of that time played for me, in reverse 
and less violently, the roles of the Shudehill bookseller 
and Robert Blatchford. There was a Hebrew teacher in 
Manchester, Isaiah Wassilevsky, whom Louis Golding has 
romanticized as Mr. Emanuel. I used to frequent his house 
during my relapses into Jewish youth groups, and I met 
Chaim Weizmann there, though not for the first time. But 
it is not the meeting with Weizmann that concerns me at 
this point. Toward the end of my college days, Wassilevsky 
tried to interest me in the Yiddish poetry of Chaim 
Nachman Bialik. Bialik is primarily a Hebrew poet, a very 
great one (I shall tell later of my contacts with him), but 
he has written magnificently in Yiddish, too. My Hebrew 
being hopeless, Wassilevsky appealed to my imperfect 
Yiddish, with some success. I was vaguely stirred; there 
came through to me an echoing of great powers; I was 
moved to suspect that my contempt for the language was 
based on ignorance, which in turn was based on willful- 
ness. But I was less susceptible at nineteen than at thirteen. 



And I had a vested interest to protect — my stance and my 
reputation. The inoculation took, but manifested itself 

The second episode was the appearance in Manchester 
of the Yiddish actor Maurice Moskowitz and his troupe, 
when I served for a week as guest dramatic critic of a local 
daily, The Despatch. The invitation came through a social- 
ist acquaintance I had on the paper. He asked me if I 
wanted to get free passes and "make a few bob on the side." 
He did not ask me how much Yiddish I knew, it was 
enough for him that I was a Jew. Another paper appointed 
Neville Laski, brother of the more famous Harold. Their 
father was an alderman and one-time mayor of Salford, 
twin city to Manchester. I imagine that young Laski's 
Yiddish was even poorer than mine. What the plays did for 
him I cannot say; on me two of them made a startling im- 
pression quite unrelated to my ephemeral role as dramatic 
critic. They were Strindberg's The Father and Tolstoi's 
The Living Corpse. Strindberg and Tolstoi in Yiddish! 
Why, they were highbrow (the word had not yet been 
coined) even in English; and here were my Yiddish- 
speaking Jews taking it all in with rapt attention. This 
was something to be looked into. 

The snobbery of it! What happened when I got around 
to the study of Yiddish was that I fell in love with it, and of 
course not simply because one could be highbrow in it. 
The lovableness of a language lies in the intimacy of its 
relationship to a regionalist life-form; the closer the in- 
timacy, the more lovable the language, and Yiddish is so 
much the alter ego of Yiddish-speaking Jewry, it is so 
perfect — and indispensable — a replica of that Jewry's life- 
experience, that one can hardly know the one without the 
other. One gets out of translations from the Yiddish a 
smaller proportion of the essential content than out of 


translations from French or German, or for that matter 
Hebrew — to mention the languages with which I am 

Yiddish led me back to my people via the Shtetl, the 
Jewish village community of Eastern Europe. Without 
Yiddish I would not have read Sholom Aleichem and Yal 
Peretz and Mendelle Mocher Sforim. There were few 
translations half a century ago, and these, like the many 
translations that have appeared since, my own included, 
are at best only good enough to demonstrate that the 
original must be much more interesting. They do not 
tempt one to a second reading, whereas the originals can 
be — and were — read over and over again. Now, it was 
obvious to me even as a boy that my Manchester com- 
munity was a Rumanian Shtetl transplanted into the West- 
ern world; but what the Shtetl had been like in situ I could 
never have learned without reading the classics and with- 
out being at home in the language of Shtetl survivors in 
America and elsewhere. 

Yiddish, then, was my gateway into Jewish life, and 
once I was inside, Hebrew followed of itself. True, I be- 
came a "Zionist" before I learned Yiddish, but it was an 
empty thing (as it still is with many "Zionists"), a gesture, 
psychological rather than spiritual. If I turned to the 
Bible at the same time, that too was only a self-assertion 
and a declaration of purpose. For a long time I thought of 
myself as an atheist, for whom Isaiah and Micah and Amos 
were moralists and sociologists, magnificent in style and 
inspiringly on the right track, though for the wrong reason. 
That the Prophets were more than moralists, that Zionism 
was more than the demand for a Jewish homeland, that 
"Thus saith the Lord" was more than a superstitious 
ejaculation — all this grew on me slowly. 

But why should I think of the Shtetl as the embodiment 



of Exile Jewishness? Why not the large Jewish communi- 
ties, cities and mothers in Israel, with their synagogues, 
academies, and institutions? The answer lies in the supe- 
rior cohesiveness of the Shtetl, which stood up as an im- 
pregnable citadel of Jewishness. The Jewish city had more 
Jewish life quantitatively, but it also had its large segment 
of defection. In the city Jews were exposed to worldly 
opportunity and, very often, an attractive non-Jewish cul- 
ture; in both these respects, the Shtetl was secure. There 
was, again, a crucial difference between Macheen as the 
Rumanian Shtetl and my Manchester community as a 
transplanted Shtetl. Macheen-in-Rumania had despised the 
surrounding civilization; Macheen-in-Manchester had ad- 
mired it. The insulation of Macheen-in-Manchester from 
its environment was uneven, stronger at some points, 
weaker at others, differing also from person to person. 
With my parents and my rebbe it was very strong, with my 
uncles Leon and Moritz weaker; and though at its weakest 
it was the Shtetl spirit that still dominated, there was no 
comparison with the dominion of the Shtetl spirit in 

With all this, it is essential to know that the Jewish 
attitude toward the Shtetl was and is ambivalent. On the 
one hand it is remembered sentimentally. From just below 
the horizon — historically speaking, the Shtetl died only 
yesterday — it sends up a nostalgic glow for its survivors 
and for those who have received the tradition from parents 
and grandparents. It is pictured as one of the rare and 
happy breathing-spells of the Exile, the nearest thing to a 
home from home that the Jews have ever known. On the 
other hand, it is recalled with a grimace of distaste. The 
Shtetlach! Those forlorn little settlements in a vast and 
hostile wilderness, isolated alike from Jewish and non- 
Jewish centers of civilization, their tenure precarious, their 


Structure ramshackle, their spirit squalid. Who would want 
to live in one of them? 

The temptation of the sociologist is to strike an objec- 
tive pose, to say judicially that the truth no doubt lies 
somewhere between the two extremes. But this is a case 
in which the mechanically judicial is a falsification; for the 
peculiarity of the Shtetl was precisely that the truth lay, 
not somewhere toward the middle, but only in the two 
extremes. The Shtetl (I capitalize it everywhere because it 
was a personality) symbolizes all Jewish life in the Exile; 
not a mixture which fuses into gray, but a checkered pat- 
tern of the exalted and the ignominious. 

In The Three, which is the usual manner of referring 
to Mendelle Mocher Sforim, Yal Peretz, and Sholom 
Aleichem, it is the first who reproduces in sharpest con- 
trast the extreme of Shtetl life; but in this he and the 
others of the triad, as well as most Yiddish writers, were in 
the ancient tradition. No other national literature has the 
schizophrenic quality of the Jewish, from the Bible on. 
The Jewish people loves and hates itself, admires and 
despises itself with pathological intensity. According to 
mood, it is God-selected and God-rejected. Certainly no 
other people robbed of its homeland, to which it had been 
directed by God Himself, and sent into exile by nations 
no better than itself, would go on repeating for two mil- 
lennia: "Serves us right" — ^which is the meaning of the 
prayer: "Because of our sins we were exiled from our 
land." But then, no other people goes on existing for two 
thousand years after expulsion and dispersion; and no 
other people associates its ultimate redemption with the 
destiny of the human species as a whole. 

In the final reckoning, however, the Shtetl, like the lost 
Jewish homeland of long ago, is seen lovingly. Today 
Jews feel with a special poignancy about it because it was 



done to death in their own time and, as it were, before 
their very eyes. The Shtetl is a martyr, and if one does not 
go to a cemetery to dwell on the imperfections of the 
departed, neither does one remember in a predominantly 
critical spirit a martyr whose last cries of agony still quiver 
in the air. Our ambivalence toward the Shtetl is there, 
we cannot rid ourselves of an immemorial national habit, 
but it is strongly modified by a shift toward affirmation. 

Some of the nostalgia clinging to the Shtetl is undoubt- 
edly connected with its rural setting, but this too in the 
paradoxical Jewish way. The Shtetl was in the countryside 
but not of it, as far as Jews were concerned; the earth was 
the Lord's, but the fullness thereof was for the non-Jews. 
For the Jew, the fields and forests and open spaces evoked, 
with their beauty, echoes of a very different time and place. 
His nature festivals were geared to the Palestinian climate 
and calendar; he celebrated regularly a harvest which he 
and his forebears had not gathered for sixty or seventy 
generations; he prayed for the "former" and the "latter" 
rains, phenomena of a subtropical climate, indifferent to 
the needs of his neighbors, whose prayers, more practical 
than his, pointed to a local agricultural cycle. And Nature 
as a whole was a rather trivial business to the Shtetl Jew. 

Mendelle tells us of the education of a Jewish boy: 
"Little Shlomo had accumulated long before his bar 
mitzvah as much experience as if he were a Methuselah. 
Where hadn't he been and what hadn't he seen! Meso- 
potamia, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Persia and 
Shushan, the capital of Ahasuerus's empire, Egypt and the 
Nile, the deserts and the mountains. It was an experience 
which the children of no other people ever knew . . . He 
could not tell you a thing about Russia, about Poland, 
about Lithuania, and their peoples, laws, kings, politicians 
. . . But you just ask him about Og, King of Bashan, and 


Sihon, King of the Amorites, and Nebuchadnezzar, King 
of Babylonia! Ask him about the Jordan! He knew the 
people who lived in tents and spoke Hebrew or Aramaic; 
the people who rode on mules or camels and drank water 
out of pitchers , . . He knew nothing concerning the fields 
about him, about rye, wheat, potatoes, and where his bread 
came from; didn't know of the existence of such things as 
oak, pine and fir trees; but he knew about vineyards, date 
palms, pomegranates, locust trees . . . He knew about the 
dragon and the leopard, about the turtledove and the hart 
that panteth after the living waters: he lived in another 

Such an upbringing was possible in a big-city commun- 
ity too; but there it would have had to hold off, besides 
a gentile environment, a considerable body of moderniz- 
ing or half -modernizing Jews, so that its course would 
have been less tacit and self-assured. The vain-longing 
for the Shtetl is a vain-longing for the security of its 
spiritual life, in which the Jew triumphed over the will 
of the oppressor. When the Shtetl submitted to non-Jewish 
cultural values, it took them over, absorbed them in a 
Jewish or Yiddish form; and this digestive capacity was the 
secret of its endurance. 

Yiddish and its literature were as deeply fixed in the 
Return as were the Hebrew prayers. Despite the rich non- 
Zionist, anti-Zionist, and anti-nationalist literature which 
it developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth 
centuries, and despite its revolutionary section, Yiddish 
meant, overwhelmingly, the tradition. 

The language was a holding action. A people which was 
excluded from history except as its passive object, was wait- 
ing to re-enter it on the grandest scale, and the language 
it used reflected its expectations, based on ancient and 
beloved documents continuously recalled. The expecta- 



tions were so long deferred that the will to help in their 
fulfillment became half paralyzed, but the language and 
its literature preserved it from complete decay. Yiddish 
is instinct with the certainty of an ultimate meaning in 
history; this one learns best from a study of the Shtetl in 
its own language. 


€4 M^ ® 


Time Present^ Place Here 



MUST break off again, come up for air through the 
strata of fifty years, and remind myself where I am and at 
what point of time. I must take my bearings again before 
plunging back into the past. 

The place is the Jewish homeland my people and I 
dreamed about, the time is the thirteenth year of its inde- 
pendence. The air-conditioned room I am working in 
looks out on the enchanting terraced garden in front of 
the Faculty House of the Weizmann Institute of Science. 
I have traveled up to Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv, and 
down to Beersheba; I have toured the populous valley of 
Jezreel, which was a grisly desolation when I first saw it, 
nearly forty years ago; I have looked down from the Gali- 
lean heights on the village- and farm-studded Huleh 
Valley, which was then a scummy, shimmering, mosquito- 
clouded swamp; I have threaded my confused way through 
distracting crowds in the cities, I have spent solitary hours 
of contemplation in kibbutz huts overlooking the Jordan 
or fronting the forbidding northern mountains; and I 
have returned to my double life here, the mornings and 
evenings given to the evocation of the past, the afternoons 


to my belated wooing of the power which is molding the 
future of the planet. 


I said of Uncle Berel and my mother — and it could 
be said of my Manchester-Rumanian community and of 
Shtetl Jews generally — that "they had a deep-rooted if 
unformulated conviction that the world, with its privileges 
and triumphs, was not for the Jews until something like a 
Messianic transformation had taken place in mankind," 
The Return would not come about, the homeland would 
not be rebuilt, until the Jews and the world were worthy 
of them. But what was their dream picture of the recon- 
stituted homeland? I don't think they had one; they had 
bits and suggestions for a picture that couldn't have been 
put together this side of eternity; the pastoral and the 
pious on the one hand; the magnificent on the other — if 
not the resplendent Temple and its sacrifices, then some- 
thing like it; a land of peace — still, with its complement 
of warriors in the style of King David's band, for orna- 
mental purposes, since there would be no wars; a land 
without poverty or crime, a land therefore without police- 
men or jails (Jewish jails, Jewish policemen, how utterly 
unthinkable!) — no thieves or swindlers, let alone, God for- 
bid, murderers; an agricultural land, chiefly (how they 
yearned over "the following of the plough"!), with vine- 
yards and orchards as well as grainfields, with locust trees 
and a few camels; a land of learning and, of course, rich 
Jewishness, As to the how, the manner in which this home- 
land would arise, well, they were vaguest about that; not 
being fundamentalists, they did not expect the literal inter- 
vention of the Messiah; all the same, their thinking was a 
secularized Messianism. 

What would Uncle Berel say at an Independence Day 



parade of the Israeli army, with its tanks and planes and 
its smart, arm-swinging ranks of men and women and its 
frantically cheering crowds of spectators? I am afraid that 
on this point I cannot vouch for his consistency. He would 
stare for some minutes open-mouthed, he would begin 
to chew his overhanging mustache, he would mutter into 
it something like: "I suppose you've got to have those 
things," and he would finish up by joining in the cheering 
like a regular goy. I find it harder to conjure up 
the reaction of my Manchester folk and of Shtetl people 
generally to the following excerpt from an Israeli news- 

"The lucky 40,000 soccer fans who managed to get 
tickets for the Italy-Israel world cup match, and the many 
thousands more who heard the running commentary on 
their radios Sunday, had holiday in their hearts for 87 
minutes of the 90 minute game. For that long it seemed 
that Israel's amateur David would down the multimillion 
Italian soccer Goliath. In the 14th minute Israel surprised 
all by scoring first, and after 38 minutes the unbelievable 
happened — Israel was 2-0 up. That was at half time. In 
the 53rd minute the Italians crept up a point, but that 
only from the penalty spot, and many here still believed 
and prayed Israel's amateurs would hold out. But the 
professional training of the Italian footballers told in the 
end." (The tragedy of it!) 

Harder still is it to picture their bafflement on finding 
out that all of the young people (and quite a number of 
the older ones) speak not a word of Yiddish. How can that 
be? Hebrew is the national language? Certainly! In the 
Holy Land it is fitting that everyone should speak Hebrew. 
"But our Yiddish! Our beloved Mamme-loshen (mother 
tongue) ! We learned the Torah in Yiddish, we suffered and 
died and were faithful in Yiddish, we kept Jewishness alive 



in Yiddish! A Jewish boy or girl in the Jewish homeland 
ignorant of Yiddish! It doesn't make sense." 

They would find it hard to acclimatize, my old Man- 
chester folk and the Shtetl Jews generally. They would 
have to realize that the Messiah hasn't come, and this is 
not the land of their dreams. It has its grainfields and or- 
chards and vineyards and locust and date trees, but it also 
has its cities and factories, its criminals and policemen and 
jails. It has its sports and its modern army, its parliament, 
its diplomats, its spies, its wrangling political parties, its 
atheists and its religious fanatics. Sometimes I wonder 
whether my rebbe would have joined the Neturei Karta, 
that group of thrice-ultra-orthodox zealots which, living in 
Israel, is opposed to the idea of the Jewish state, unspon- 
sored as it was by the Messiah himself, and would like to 
see it dissolved until his advent. On the whole, I think 
not; my rebbe was a kindly man. 

But however difficult they would find it to acclimatize, 
they would be proud of the Jewish homeland, particularly 
if they had learned how it had been wrung out of adverse 
circumstance, and what it had done for hundreds of thou- 
sands of refugees. They would resign themselves to the 
panoplied choreography of statehood, the flags and parades 
and saluting and standing to attention, which had always 
seemed a little childish to them. They would adapt more 
or less to certain incongruities, the gasoline station that 
announces by its name the entrance into Samson's territory, 
the subway that leads to the summit of Carmel, the super- 
market that is today the glory of Jerusalem. 

I imagine myself taking my long-dead relatives on a 
tour, and there would be some incomprehensible disap- 
pointments. They would want to look on the oak of 
Mamre, under which Abraham sat and near which, no 
doubt, he erected the four-doored tent which was such a 



sore problem for my uncle Moritz; I would have to tell 
them that the oak is gone and the location not identifiable. 
As for the cave in which the patriarchs and three of the 
matriarchs are buried, that is in hostile territory; so is 
Bethlehem, the little town to which Naomi brought Ruth 
the Moabitess one day in the barley season to become the 
wife of Boaz and the ancestress of King David, and there- 
fore of the Messiah; so is the grave of the fourth matriarch, 
the most beloved of all, Rachel, who weeps for her children 
and will not be comforted. As for the Wailing Wall, the 
remnant of the Temple at which Jews prayed and wept for 
so many centuries, that is in a part of Jerusalem itself that 
is not ours. 

But I would take them to the summit of Carmel where 
Elijah, after his contest with the prophets of Baal, heard — 
inaudible to everyone else — "the sound of abundance of 
rain" foretelling the end of the three-year drought, and 
bent himself to the earth and prayed mightily, and sent 
his servant seven times to look toward the sea, till he re- 
turned with the immortal phrase about "the cloud no 
bigger than a man's hand"; and I would point out to them 
— the smoke from the oil refineries permitting — the very 
spot in the valley below, where Elijah had slain the prophets 
of Baal who had slain all the prophets of Israel ex- 
cept himself. I would take them to the Valley of Ayalon 
where (to paraphrase Gibbon) God suspended the laws of 
nature for the benefit of the Israelites and caused the moon 
and the sun to stand still while Joshua completed the 
rout of the Amorites (but God was always suspending 
the laws of nature hereabouts, and the land is as full of 
miracles as a pomegranate is of seeds); and to Jaffa, the 
ancient Joppa, whence Jonah took ship for Tarshish and 
made an unscheduled submarine return to become the 
grudging savior of Nineveh. 

But we could spend many days in godly folk reminis- 



cence without stirring more than a stone's throw from my 
workroom above the garden; for the laboratories are built 
more or less on the site of that famous Yabneh Academy 
in which Yohanaan ben Zakkai and Eleazar ben Azaryah 
(he of the miraculous, face-saving beard) created for the 
Jewish people the technique of disembodied survival. A 
thousand years or so before them the Philistines lorded 
it in these parts, but having no Yohanaan ben Zakkais and 
no Eleazar ben Azaryahs, they perished with their physical 
overthrow. Samson was of course a frequent visitor here, 
a lover of Philistine women and a slayer of their men; 
King David too, but hereabouts only as fighter, never as 
lover. By the singlemindedness he displayed in this locality 
he broke the back of the Philistine power, but because he 
was such a shedder of blood, not even his psalms could wash 
him clean, and he was forbidden to rebuild the Temple 
on which he had set his heart. 

But if they would delight in these evocations (hampered 
a little by blaring klaxons, screeching brakes, factory 
whistles, radios, plane propellers, and jets) they would 
delight even more in the countless Sabbath evening strol- 
lers, young and old, on roads between villages, on sea- and 
lake-shore, in kibbutz and moshav and city. Golden hour 
when the air is alive with freedom, and Jews laugh, not 
with the wry, sophisticated laugh of Sholom Aleichem, but 
with unshadowed and spontaneous laughter which declares 
tacitly: "We are home!" But since my ghostly tourists are 
after all of the Exile, their delight would be tinged with 
a sad musing, and not only because of memories, but of 
a partial, nagging awareness of extrusion. 


I have always known of this awareness and of its cause, 
but they were never as clear to me as this morning, after 



a night of intolerable dreams and equally intolerable 
awakenings and fitful note-taking. For yesterday I went up 
to Jerusalem for my first visit to the Eichmann trial — it 
will certainly be my last — and it will be some time before 
the effects sink into their proper place. 

I went, thoroughly a contre-coeur, and after long resist- 
ance. What for? I asked myself. Do I have to have the 
horror-story spelled out for me again in all its viscera- 
convulsing, mind-searing details? Do I have to look at the 
wretched thing in the glass cage, and try to reconcile a 
human appearance with a mephitic monstrosity? It is for 
others, not for me; for the millions who let it glide by them 
with a donation, or a sigh, or perhaps with a crafty head- 
shake of incredulity. Weeks and months I kept putting it 
off, telling myself nevertheless that I ought to go, since I so 
easily could, and that some day I might regret not having 
gone and perhaps learned something to impart to others. 

But I learned nothing from it; that I am prone to night- 
mares I already knew, and that the story must never be 
forgotten I already believed. The thoughts I want to order 
and set down have been running through my mind for 
a long time, some of them for years, some since the capture 
of Eichmann, some since my arrival here shortly after 
the trial opened. In America and here I have listened to, 
I have read, countless discussions. I have heard untrained 
laymen argue hotly on the legality of the case and the 
competence of the court; I have heard those who conceded 
both object nevertheless to the way the trial was con- 
ducted. It should have been thus and so; the indictment 
should not have been directed solely against Germany; 
the nations which did so little to thwart the genocidal 
enterprise should have been included. The Jews them- 
selves are not exempt; they too did less than they might 
have done. The trial should properly have been an indict- 



merit of the human species. The prosecutor and the judges 
were not equal to their task; they should have — they 
should have — I am not clear as to what was expected of 
them; perhaps a grandeur of moral utterance surpassing 
anything in the Bible, something that would shake the 
world as the Prophets themselves have failed to do. The 
court should have risen above the Jewish tragedy; it should 
have heard crying from the ground the blood of all the 
butchered minorities. It should have — there is no end to it. 

It would be foolish to try to deal with these pretentious 
dissatisfactions. But there is one which will bear discussion. 
It did not arise from the trial; here in Israel loudly, else- 
where more softly, it was heard before; the trial brought 
its utterance to a focus; and it has become, it remains, a 
moral issue of a kind. It is concerned with the victims, 
not with the criminals. Why did they go like sheep to the 
slaughter? Why did so few of them — and these few so late 
— stand up like men and, knowing themselves doomed, 
at least exact a life for a life where they could, "take one 
of the butchers with them" (that is the favorite phrase)? 
It might not have saved any Jewish lives, but it would 
have cost the murderers a good many; and under such cir- 
cumstances the death of the victims would not have been 
so ignoble, their memory not merely and not so humili- 
atingly pitiable. 

The reproach sometimes cuts deeper. Why did the Jews 
"collaborate" with their destroyers? Why did they furnish 
lists? Why did they not simply stage, everywhere, a sit- 
down strike, thus making it harder (some would aver im- 
possible) for the universal butcher to carry out his plan? 
As armchair generals refight, victoriously, the battles lost 
by generals in the field, so these critics of Jewish behavior 
under Hitler tell the dead what they should have done. 
The capacity of the Nazis for torture is ignored: that 



they could have placed women and children on the rack, or 
shot them down in the presence of husbands and fathers, or 
simply closed all foodshops to the Jews, makes no differ- 
ence; neither does the unbelievability, at the time, of the 
total intention of the Nazis. "I'll tell you what you should 
have done. ..." 

On the part of a Jew such an appraisal may be rooted 
in a number of sources, all of them discreditable in some 
degree. His predominant feeling may be that he has been 
badly let down by the six million unheroic fellow Jews 
who perished in the camps; or he may be totally alienated 
from Jewish knowledge or at least the significance of the 
two thousand years of Jewish exile. But nowhere does this 
appraisal come to more revolting expression than in the 
slanted analysis of the ghastly tragedy offered to the public 
by Miss Hannah Arendt. One recoils with a quiver of 
pure disgust from the interpretation of the "facts," which 
makes the leaders of that trapped Jewry look like a scummy 
lot, and which leads to the general conclusion that when 
cowardly people are murdered they have mostly themselves 
to blame. Bewildered, one contrasts this stony and heart- 
less attitude with the sensitivity and understanding of Mr. 
Hersey's The Wall. 

It must however be conceded that Miss Arendt's views 
as expressed recently are consistent with those she ex- 
pressed in 1951, when the horror story was still fresh and 
before she had the "facts" as presented in the Hilberg study 
on which she seems to rely implicitly. On persecution at 
large she delivered this dictum: 

Persecution of powerless or power-losing groups 
may not be a very pleasant spectacle,* but it does not 
spring from human meanness alone. 

* A curious way of putting it, at once tough and mincing. I did not quite 
get the spirit of it until this book was in press and I read Mr. George 
Steiner's review of Miss Arendt's On Revolution [The Reporter, May 9, 



and on the persecution of the Jews: 

Just as anti-Semites understandably desire to escape 
responsibility for their deeds, so Jews, attacked and on 
the defensive, even more understandably do not wish 
to discuss under any circumstances their share of the 

Hence, when we press for the outlawing of genocide, let 
us not forget, when a case of genocide does occur, to look 
carefully into the character of the annihilated people for 
their share of the guilt. It might possibly be larger than 
that of the annihilators! 

Aldous Huxley tells somewhere of a devoted priest who 
ministered to kidnapped Negroes on a slave ship, and re- 
minded them of their sins. His motive was noble; he 
wanted the wretched victims to feel that even in their 
horrible plight they were still human, still capable of a 
choice between good and evil; but it does not appear that 
he regarded their sins of the past or present as a contribu- 
tory element to their misfortune. The word "persecution" 
loses its meaning if it is tinged with the notion of punish- 
ment — the only ground I can conceive as justifying the 
suggestion that persecution does not spring from human 
meanness alone. The persecutor may, and nearly always 
does, consider himself the instrument of retribution, 
divine or historical ("We shall be stern, but just," said Hit- 
ler), but he is not concerned with the moral improvement 
of his victims. To take the contrary view in the case of the 
Jews — one could say the same thing of the Armenians and 
the Turks — is, however unladylike it sounds, to spit on 
the grave of six million victims of human bestiality. And 

1963). He says of it, inter alia: "Throughout this brilliant but oddly cruel 
book the heart is damned." This is one of the kinder things one could 
say of Miss Arendt's articles on the Eichmann trial and the murder of the 
six million Jews. 


lest the reader suspect, as he must, that I quote Miss Arendt 
out of context, let him turn to the first chapter of her 
The Origins of Totalitarianism (New York, 1951). 

As to what I have called a total alienation from the 
significance of two thousand years of Jewish exile, let us 
evaluate two thousand years of Jewish exile nonresistance 
in the most utilitarian terms. Jewish communities knew 
that to resist, to rise against the oppressor, meant to be 
wiped out, whereas the refusal to hit back or even to take 
aggressive measures of defense, meant the survival of some. 
But the survival of the few, of "the remnant," was not an 
end in itself; it was the condition for the perpetuation and 
the continuance of the faith. Wretched and repulsive as 
this behavior must strike an outsider, the insider — and the 
rare outsider — will see in it a valor that is of the spirit as 
well as of the flesh. 

A clear glimpse of this exile ethos is afforded by the 
revolt of the Warsaw ghetto when all hope had been wiped 
out. Were the Warsaw ghetto fighters (to take but one in- 
stance) of a different breed from the rest of the Jews? If so, 
why did they wait till there was nothing to be lost or 
gained before they rose on April 21, 1943? There is only 
one answer: until that date they accepted, though with 
mounting impatience, the bitter strategy which had served 
the Jewish people for two thousand years. 

How startling it is that a non-Jew, and a German at 
that, should have shown the keenest and most sympathetic 
understanding of the Jewish exile dilemma. In his magnifi- 
cent saga-Midrash, Joseph and His Brothers, Thomas 
Mann has clarified forever its nature and resolution; and 
to those who are troubled by it I recommend a reading 
and rereading, in its fullness, of the Jacob-Eliphaz episode 
in the first volume. The Tales of Jacob. 

Jacob is in flight from his brother Esau, whom he has 


"swindled" out of that paternal spiritual blessing which 
Esau would have had no use for. Eliphaz, Esau's high- 
spirited son, sets out in pursuit, determined to wreak 
venegeance on the thief. Well-armed, overwhelmingly at- 
tended, he overtakes his uncle, and we read: 

"What happened then had touched Jacob's pride and 
honour more surely than anything else in all his life; it was 
calculated to undermine and would have undermined for- 
ever the dignity and self-confidence of another man. He 
was obliged — if he wanted to live, and that he did at all 
costs; not, we must remember, out of common cowardice, 
but because he was consecrated, because the promise and 
the blessing handed down from Abraham lay upon him — to 
try to soften by entreaties the heart of this lad, his nephew, 
so much younger than himself, and so much lower 
in station ... to reach him through self-abasement and 
tears and flatteries, through whining appeals to his mag- 
nanimity, with a thousand pleas and excuses, in a word, 
by thoroughly demonstrating the fact that it was not worth 
Eliphaz 's while to turn his sword against such a grovel- 
ling suppliant. He did it, he kissed the lad's feet like one 
frenzied, he flung whole handfuls of dust into the air to 
fall back on his head; his tongue ran without stint . . ." 

Thomas Mann extends himself on the unpalatable 
scene, sparing neither Jacob nor the reader, till the latter 
asks: How can a man sink so low, lick the dust so enthusi- 
astically? Is there anything that can justify it? 

We learn further how Eliphaz, half in disgust, half in 
embarrassment, turns from the babbling, sniveling, pros- 
trate figure, and contents himself with stripping Jacob 
of all the treasures his mother had sent along with him to 
win the favor of his uncle Laban in Syria. But — 

"He had saved his life, his precious covenanted life, 
for God and the future — ^what were gold and cornelian 


to set against that? For life is all; and young Eliphaz had 
been even more brilliantly swindled than his father — but 
at what a price! Above and beyond the valuables, it had 
meant the loss of the whole man's honour, for how could 
one be more shamed than Jacob was, having bowed his 
head in the dust before a stripling, whining, his face 
smeared with dust and tears? And then? What happened 
straightway after the degradation?" 

That happened which is unforgettably recorded as 
Jacob's dream of the ladder to heaven and the ascending 
and descending angels, for the place was Beth-El, and here 
Jacob lay down to sleep . . . 

"Then it was that high matters came to pass; then truly, 
toward midnight, after some hours of profound slumber, 
his head was lifted up from every ignominy, even to the 
countenance of the Most High, wherein mingled all of the 
royal and of the divine which his soul had ever compassed 
in its imaginings; which that soul then, humbled, yet 
smiling privily in its abasement, erected for its own 
strengthening and consolation in the space of its dreams ..." 

I am not suggesting, even remotely, that all Jews who 
vainly or successfully have licked the boots of their murder- 
ous oppressors have been Jacobs; it is enough to consider 
how for two millennia a people endured, between pre- 
carious respites, all the cruelties and humiliations that man 
can endure, and set its teeth to survive together with its 
dream. To thousands of Israelis, and particularly to sabras 
(the native-born) the Exile, the bi-millennial stretch be- 
tween Bar Kochba and Ben Gurion, is something to be "re- 
pressed"; it offends their honor. They fought against im- 
mense odds, put the life of the new homeland to the 
hazard, and won. They do not reflect that the chances in 
a declared war, a challenge taken up, in the Exile, were 
not one in a million. They forget that they owe their 


existence to the obstinate passivity of their forefathers 
who, cringing, ran the gauntlet between rows of mur- 
derers, hugging under their coats the precious burden 
which they delivered at its destination in the fullness of 

Many sabras despise Yiddish as a language because it is 
the symbol as well as the creation and mirror of the Exile 
and its long disgrace; of Yiddish as the custodian of the 
Jewish idea they have no concept, and of the richness of 
experience distilled into it no inkling. 

There was a time, thirty and forty and fifty years ago, 
when young zealots in the evolving homeland demon- 
strated against Yiddish, rebuked users of it in public 
places, bade them use Hebrew or presumably, if they 
knew only Yiddish, to be silent except when at home. 
There was no objection to the use of other languages; 
Yiddish represented the traumatic memory to be effaced. 
It is true that the climate in the country has changed; 
Yiddish speakers are free from molestation, Yiddish peri- 
odicals — among them Die Goldene Keit, one of the best 
we have ever had — are common, Yiddish theatrical per- 
formances are frequent. But the attitude toward exilic 
Jewry, past and present, remains, among many of the 
young, and some of the old, negative and impatient; and 
the achievements of exilic Jewry are squeezed into insig- 
nificance between the grandeur of ancient and the pride of 
modern Israel. There is tolerance of Yiddish only because 
Hebrew is so firmly established; but what Yiddish repre- 
sents is contemptuously dismissed. 

This belittlement of the travail of sixty generations may 
be linked to a passing hubris; if so, it need not trouble us. 
But if it is the symptom of a growing division in the iden- 
tity of the Jewish people, the spiritual purpose of the 
re-creation of Israel may be long obscured and perhaps 


suffer permanent eclipse. The Exile is as meaningful a part 
of Jewish history as the Homeland; to assume that it was 
an aberration, a nightmare without values, is to lop off 
more than half of Jewish history and to declare that Jewish 
persistence was nothing more than an incomprehensibly 
extended exercise in low cunning which it would be decent 
to forget. A Jewish state which does not absorb the affirma- 
tive part of the Exile is not true even to the remote past 
in which it purports to find its justification, for that remote 
past foretold the Exile and bade the Jewish people learn 
from it. 

Hence the touch of reserve on the faces, the reflective 
hesitance in the voices, of my imaginary visitors. In their 
inarticulate way — for I am thinking still of amcho, the 
plebs — they feel that they were not nobodies and nullities. 
They had something which derived from Sinai and the 
Prophets, and that something, defaced as it was, they 
conserved for the Homeland-to-be. The Homeland-in- 
being is a wonderful thing surely; but there were and are 
Jewish moral values in the Exile which the Homeland 
can ignore only at its peril. And as I take my bearings 
now, looking back over fifty years of Israel's growth, I 
imagine that the humble plaint I am formulating for my 
relatives is the crucial spiritual problem before Israel. 



Cities and Men 


S4 159 m 




t The Eruption 

£ 4, 



HE CITY of Paris has been a recurrent marker in 
my life. I was there first from my fifth to my sixth year in 
transit to England with my family; a second time in the 
summer of 1914; a third from 1919 to 1920, during and 
following the negotiations of the Versailles peace treaty; 
a fourth in the summer of 1939, at the outbreak of the 
Second World War. These are the sojourns with signifi- 
cance; there have also been many brief visits. 

I give the first place to my 1914 sojourn, which occurred 
in my twentieth year, when I left Manchester for Paris 
because I was going to be a Writer. I did not make the 
decision to be a Writer; it had made itself in my boyhood, 
probably in Miss Clarke's time. I could of course have 
been a writer anywhere, but a Writer only in Paris. What 
kind of Writing was I going to do? Well, poetry, novels, 
essays, short stories, plays — I was good at everything. I was 
prepared to wait for recognition, even anxious to; im- 
mediate success would have been a reflection on my genius. 
I did not, however, aspire to the supreme tribute of life- 
long starvation and obscurity; a year or two in a garret 
would satisfy my self-esteem and add the indispensable 
cachet to my life story. 


From this point of view the beginning was inauspicious; 
I did not come within hailing distance of starvation. The 
day after my arrival in Paris in June 1914, with two 
shillings or so in my pocket, I was able to write home 
that I was profitably employed not by one newspaper but 
by two, and under conditions — which I did not describe — 
the most conducive to my literary freedom. I was, in fact, 
selling the Paris editions of The Daily Mail and The New 
York Herald mornings at the Gare St. Lazare where the 
suburban trains brought in the American and English 
commuters. I cleared seven or eight francs a day for an 
hour's work (nearer three with the coming and going), 
and the rest of the day I was free to read, write, gulp in 
life, invoke the ghosts of Murger and de Musset and con- 
gratulate humanity and myself on our successful 
rendezvous. The sinister omen escaped my attention: 
selling newspapers in one's youth might be the prologue 
to the acquisition of great wealth, the tradition did not 
link it with high literary achievement. 

Thirty-five to forty francs a week and no work on 
Saturdays and Sundays! It was more than a competence 
in the Paris of that time; it was affluence. At 33 rue des 
Ecoles, just off the boulevard St. Michel — beg pardon, 
the Boul' Miche' (and where else would I be living?) — I 
paid seven francs a week for a room on the fifth floor, and 
had my shoes shined every morning, no doubt to their 
great astonishment, unaccustomed as they were to more 
than a flick of the brush every week or two. Breakfast, a 
buttered croissant and coffee, was fifteen centimes; lunch 
eighty, with tip; supper a franc ten, pain a discretion 
(all the bread you wanted). Total, rent included, three 
francs five centimes a day, leaving me with a discretionary 
surplus, as I think they call it, of over two francs a day. 
Newspapers cost me nothing, I read my own. But there 



was in the France of those days a kind of Haldemann 
Julius enterprise, the French classics in newspaper form 
at ten centimes each, and I bought and devoured three or 
four a week. What else did I need? Writing paper and 
pencils and, yes, a bottle of pinard (cheap table wine) 
daily, at seventy-five centimes. I could also afford an eve- 
ning aperitif. 

Every morning, after work, I wrote; and every after- 
noon, except when it rained, I lay in the grass in the 
Jardin du Luxembourg and read, and sipped, and made 
notes, or broke off to meditate, or to watch the puppet 
showman delight an audience of juveniles in the charge 
of mothers and nurses with a performance of Jean le 
Redoutable. I would have liked to come close enough to 
enjoy the show itself, but I was ashamed to betray my 
infantile taste, and I would have had to drop something 
in the puppeteer's hat. On rainy days, I was perched in 
my garret — infinite room in a nutshell. And there were 
times when I needed infinite room, when I felt I was 
about to explode with sheer joy into the dimensions of a 
sizable nebula. 

There was a history behind that onset of euphoria. I 
had just finished college, that is, I had come to the end 
of the three-year scholarship awarded me by the city of 
Manchester, and I had not taken a degree. Not that I had 
been wanting in application; it was only that I had ap- 
plied myself with immense if unsystematic industry to 
anything but the subjects I had enrolled for (French per- 
haps an exception). I had learned by heart scores of pages 
of poetry, not one page of physics formulas; I had read 
Shaw, Wells, Bennett, Galsworthy, Conrad, Rolland, 
Hamsun, Hauptmann, instead of Beowulf and Langland. 
I had had fits of Plato, Kant, Bradley, Hume, and there 
was my political activity. All this not because physics or 



Beowulf bored me, but because I was in reaction from 
competitive study. 

From my thirteenth year on, when I got my scholarship 
to high school, I had hounded myself for good marks be- 
cause there was no other road for me to an education. At 
fifteen I had been awarded a "bursary" of fifteen pounds a 
year for two years; without that six shillings a week I 
might have had to leave school. I used only one year of the 
bursary, for at sixteen I won the Grand Prix of our junior 
academic world, three years at the University with sixty 
pounds a year, enough to keep me and pay for my books. 
By that time my soul had become warped with the anguish 
of waiting for examination results. 

This is not an exaggeration. When even today I read of 
a student committing suicide because of failure in an 
examination, a throb of retroactive terror goes through 
me. I remember coming home from important examina- 
tions, creeping upstairs and lying down on my bed sick 
in all my body. Or I would walk for hours in unfamiliar 
streets, muttering. I had failed! My papers had been 
starred with idiotic answers, and they sprang up before 
me the moment I left the examination hall. On bad nights 
I still have nightmares of a peculiar kind which have 
their origin in that post-examination misery, and I come 
out of them in a sweat. When, a few years ago, I saw a 
similar experience portrayed with great skill in Wild 
Strawberries, I trembled with terror. 

I did not actually fail at the university; it was simply 
that my credits did not add up to a degree, and at the time 
it seemed a terrible thing to me that I should have to go 
through life without a B.A. after my name. Against this, 
however, and overwhelming it completely, was my gradua- 
tion into freedom. I was no longer a schoolboy, watched 
and weighed and graded at regular intervals. The world 



was my examiner now, and I didn't have to be better than 
anyone now; I just had to do my best. 

There was another reason for my happiness, deeper, re- 
vealed to me later. I was coming out of the phase of 
philosophic materialism I have described, alien to my 
type of mind. I had never accepted it completely or con- 
sistently, but there had been enough of it to bring on 
periodic depressions. My love of poetry was one expression 
of my rejection of it. I was going to find my spiritual roots 
before long, but for the time being I was at large, bursting 
with unchanneled mental energies and reacting to intima- 
tions of approaching self-discovery. Some years were to 
pass before I committed myself to Jewishness, much 
nourishment had to come up from the roots; I had to 
learn much in the way of Yiddish and Hebrew and Jewish 
history, subjects in which I was an illiterate. Thus, my 
first published books were not on Jewish themes; those 
waited for almost a decade. 

When I look back at those 1914 summer months in 
Paris, it seems to me that all unsuspecting I was acting 
out in person a charade of the general self-deception of 
the time. I was living blithely in a world that was about 
to burst apart, never to be reassembled. Under our feet 
tremendous pressures were at the detonation point, and 
not the slightest tremor reached our consciousness. There 
were of course criers of doom; but there always are, and 
one never knows when the cries are timely. There are 
always Columbuses, real and fake, and they look alike. If 
you pick out a real one it is largely by luck, which you 
later represent as shrewdness, or vision. So one plays it 
safe, one closes one's ears, and as a rule one is of course 
right. It seems that thus far human history has been un- 
able to proceed in any other fashion. Besides, even the 
Columbuses themselves never know where they are going. 



In that fatuous world of June and July 1914, so com- 
placent, so self-assured, in that massively self-deluding 
world, I was playing my own silly little game of make- 
believe. Murger and de Musset! Why, their world was 
deader than a doornail in 1 9 1 4 — that is, if it had ever been 
alive. The Latin Quarter, like its imitators everywhere, 
was largely a sham; the streets swarmed with poets, 
painters, sculptors, musicians, writers; perhaps one in a 
thousand meant business. As with the Columbuses and 
the political prophets, there was no distinguishing between 
the young dedicated artificer and the windbag. I ought 
to add that five years later, when I was again in Paris, I 
still believed for a while that to be a Writer one simply 
had to be in Paris. 

I have often wondered why my childhood year in Paris, 
in 1900 and 1901, has left with me nothing more than 
factual little memories, unattended by nostalgia. We 
were very poor there, but not poorer than during our 
first year or two in Manchester. I remember going in 
1914 to the rue Joseph Dijon, in the Clignan court district, 
where we had lived, but I was not stirred. We had occupied 
a room and a half on the ground floor of Number 23; 
in the half room at the front my father had worked and 
slept; in the living room at the back my mother and the 
four children had slept. My mother used to take in sewing 
and work late into the night; I can still see the shadow of 
her hand sweep up and down the wall. Hannah and I 
used to get free lunches at school (Dora was too young for 
school) and I loathed them; they made me sick — all except 
the potato soup, and how relieved I was when that came 

I must have known a lot of French by the time we went 
to England, but it faded out; I had to learn it all over 
again, but as with my Yiddish, there was no doubt a 



permanent residue. Blocks of meaningless syllables were 
lodged in my mind, such as my brother Mendel saying: 
" Lepattronnaypalla," which I have deciphered as "le 
patron n'est pas la." There was a snowfall, and we sang in 

Larnairzher , larnairzher , 
Tombofflonker, tombofflonker 

That, I have decided, must have been: 

La neige, la neige 

Tombe en flocons, tombe en flocons 

One look at the rue Joseph Dijon was enough. I cannot 
recall having gone that summer to the Louvre, or the 
Tour Eiffel, or the Sacre Coeur, or any other of the 
sights. My pictures are of the entrances to the Gare St. 
Lazare, of my tiny room, of the swarming boulevard St. 
Michel, and above all of the lawns in the Luxembourg 
Gardens; and all of them are etched in my mind with a 
surrealistic sharpness which has survived all subsequent 
returns to them. 

When the explosion came, its significance was, as 
everyone remembers or has read, recognized or guessed at 
by only a few. War! Ridiculous and unbelievable! All 
(as we chanted in chorus) because of a shot fired in 
Sarajevo; because of bumbling, panicky politicians, Aus- 
trian, German, Russian, French, English, prisoners of 
antiquated modes of thought, with antiquated institutions 
called armies at their command. Hadn't Norman Angell 
just proved conclusively in The Great Illusion that war 
was an anachronism, as costly to the victor as to the van- 
quished, and that colonies were liabilities? I myself had 
made many speeches to that effect to my socialist audi- 
ences. This thing was simply inadmissible. In a few weeks, 



a few months at the outside, the peoples would come to 
their senses; the damned foolishness would be over by 
Christmas; the workers would rise in their might; we 
would take up where we had left off. You couldn't stop the 
world's progress, you know. 

My indiscriminate memory retains words, phrases, 
scenes, incidents. At street comers crowds on their way to 
work in the early morning would stop for a short song- 
fest (a lovely Parisian custom) led by a man on a box selling 
sheet music. One of the instantaneous successes of that 
time is still with me. 

Un bruit frapp e Vespace, 

C'est celui du canon, 

Qui vient avec audace 

Troubler les nations. 

Vont-ils longtemps, 

Ces Allemands, 

Nous entrainer vers la fournaise? 

Mais sans broncher 

Sachons marcher 

Quand retentit la Marseillaise! 

On the wall of the Sarah Bernhardt theater someone 
had scribbled in chalk: 

Aux abeilles les fleurs, 
Aux Frangais Vhonneur; 
Et pour ne rien perdre 
Aux Allemands la m . 

A paroxysm of war fever gripped the country, or at least 
the city, which I was able to observe at first hand. Good 
God! What was happening to common sense, to the work- 
ing class, to civilization, to my Vie de Boheme? 

On the evening of August 2 I sat at an outdoor caf^ 



on the boulevard des Italiens. I had been sitting at another 
cafe nearby, a day or two earlier, when I heard the shot 
that killed Jean Jaures, the great socialist, one of my idols, 
for his opposition to the extension of the conscription 
period. On that second evening I was remembering the 
agitation that boiled along the streets, the incredulousness, 
the rage — and with them the consolatory cries: "This does 
it! This will show the world what kind of people war- 
mongers are. Jaures! With your martyr's death you have 
crowned your life work. There will be no more war!" 
This I was remembering, and war was here. 

A black, roaring mass came down on us like a flood 
from the direction of the Porte St. Martin. It stretched 
from wall to wall, sweeping back the traffic, upsetting, 
smashing, and trampling on chairs and tables, carrying 
along those who did not escape into doorways or side 
streets. A tremendous rhythmic howling went up from it: 

Hein-hein-hein! Hoo! Hoo! 
Hein-hein-hein! Hoo! Hoo! 

(The rhythm was that of Al-ge-rie Frangaise!) 

I was not among those that escaped. I wanted to know 
what this thing was, and what the howling meant. I found 
myself linked arm in arm with two young Frenchmen, of 
whom I remember only the one on the right, an under- 
sized boy, with thin face and bulging eyes. 

Hein-hein-hein! Hoo! Hoo! 

resolved itself into: 

A Berlin! Tons! Tous! 

and out of politeness, out of timidity, out of whatever it 
was, I began to chant with them, feeling like a fool. 



A Berlin! Tous! Tous! 

As we drew close to the Place de F Opera, another chorus 
swelled on us from behind, mingling with ours and over- 
whelming it. At first it sounded like: 

Omheheho! Ombebeho! Ombe: 
Ombebeho! Ombebeho! Ombe! 

That resolved itself into: 

Conspuez Guillaume! Conspuez Guillaume! Conspuez! 

A curious and beastly tickling of excitement, which 
made me feel like an even bigger fool, was manifesting 
itself in my viscera. The boy on my right flung his head 
from side to side. In another minute or two, I thought, I 
too was going to have a fit. As we turned off into the rue 
Royale, a third chorus was sent forward to us from the 

C'est r Alsace et la Lorraine^ 
C'est r Alsace qu'il nous faut! 

Other crowds, converging from the Left Bank and down 
the Champs Elysees, joined with ours in the Place de la 
Concorde, and a wild demonstration was staged before 
the statue of Strassburg, which had been in mourning for 
over fifty years. 

I had been at demonstrations before, election crowds 
and political rallies. I remember how, when it was a ques- 
tion of increasing the Royal Navy by eight battleships, 
there was great agitation, and at one very large political 
rally a speaker who opposed the increase was silenced for 
several minutes by an audience which chanted nothing 


We want eight! 
And we won't wait! 

I remember other, similar occasions, but I had never 
known anything quite like this. The beastly tickling in 
my stomach was spreading through me; it threatened to 
develop into a maniacal seizure. I fought it down, I fought 
it back, repeating to myself something like: "Idiot! You 
need Alsace and Lorraine like a hole in the head!" And 
it was amazing how this obvious fact refused to stay put 
in front of my mind, how it kept wriggling away out of 
my grip, as if it suffered acute anguish when it was looked 

The mob! That was where I first met it in its naked 
form. The mob! At its most "useful" it is like a gangster 
whom we hire to rid us of another gangster, and who 
takes over in his place, remaining a gangster still. 

I am prone to read premonitions into my memories; I 
may be wrong in thinking that this incident in Paris 
gave me my first conscious feel of mob psychology; but 
I cannot be wrong in thinking that the incident was to 
stand out for me in years to come as the prototype of all 
the mob scenes, all the mob forces, that have been involved 
in the shaping of recent history. Not that the mob is a 
new thing. Moses several thousands of years ago sternly 
warned his people against it! "Thou shalt not follow a 
multitude to do evil." He did not, by way of balance, 
issue the positive command: "Thou shalt follow a multi- 
tude to do good." Goodness cannot issue from mob in- 

Before the twentieth century, mob manipulation had 
not become a science, with psychologists and scenarists 
at its command. What I saw in Paris that evening was 
primitive and, I believe, relatively spontaneous. What we 
have seen and heard of since then in the way of mobs is 



almost in another category; and what our children and 
grandchildren may yet see is something we seldom think 
of; for though there is much proper concern about the 
feeding and housing of a world population of six billion, 
or ten billion, little thought is given to guarding against 
mob psychology when America will have a population of 
half a billion and China of a billion and a half. 

I used to think that creators of mob psychologies — and 
for that matter nearly all those who held what I con- 
sidered reactionary views — were consciously wicked men, 
salauds (sons-of-bitches, Sartre's favorite word). I was still 
of that conviction five years later, during my second long 
stay in Paris, in 1919, when in American uniform, I 
was working in the Hotel Crillon, one of the headquarters 
of the peace delegations. But I was myself in a mood of 
mob enthusiasm for Wilson and the League of Nations, 
and of hatred of Clemenceau and Lloyd George (Orlando 
made no impression on me). I had a genuine personal 
hatred of Lloyd George for his Khaki Election campaign, 
held soon after the victory (Hitler was to write admiringly 
of Lloyd George as a master demagogue, in Mein Kampf). 
But the chief focus of my fury and contempt was a certain 
Sir Eric Geddes, one of Lloyd George's lieutenants, be- 
cause of the powerful slogan he coined at the time: "We're 
going to squeeze the Germans until the pips squeak!" 

That stunned me. I held Germany to be more guilty 
than the Allies, I thought some reparation was due if 
only in token of this fact, but I asked: "What kind of man 
can this Geddes be? What does he think he's up to, and 
what kind of contribution does he think he's making to 
the stabilization of Europe and the world after 'the war 
to end war'?" 

These were rhetorical questions. I had the answers; he 
was a wicked man, a low man. He did not see himself 
making, he did not want to make, a contribution to the 



Stabilization of Europe and the world. On the contrary. 
... I thought: I'd like to get hold of that man; I'd like to 
look him straight in the eye and ask him: "What the hell 
are you driving at, Sir?" 

But there wasn't much likelihood that I would ever get 
hold of Sir Eric Geddes; I was a sergeant in the A.E.F., 
and he was a Knight and a Minister in His Britannic 
Majesty's Government. 

Life, in the peculiar way it has, arranged a meeting. I 
had a long and friendly chat with Sir Eric Geddes on 
Christmas eve, 1933, in Khartoum. We had flown up to- 
gether from Johannesburg, and I sat with him for an hour 
or so before dinner. He was an attractive and knowledge- 
able man. I had been watching him for three days, ad- 
miring his massive head, his unself-consciousness, his 
graceful carriage. He talked easily, a man secure in achieve- 
ment and reputation, first about the oddity of the scene — 
Christmas decorations near the equator and black men 
hanging up artificial holly. "Though after all," he said, 
"the Christian part of Christmas originated nearer the 
equator than we usually remember." Then he spoke about 
Christmases he had observed in other parts of the world. 
He boasted pleasantly: "I've been in every one of your 
forty-eight states." A man of wide experience, solid in- 
telligence, admirable culture, serious, personable, attrac- 
tive. A wicked, low man? A salaud? Ridiculous! I turned 
the conversation strategically to the need of a suprana- 
tional outlook on world affairs. 

"Oh, yes," he said. "We must have a new system." 

"Especially in our teaching of the public," I suggested. 

"In that above all." 

I had my opening. "Sir Eric," I said, "may I ask you a 
rather personal question which goes back a number of 

He looked a little astonished. "By all means." 



"In the Khaki Election you coined a slogan: 'We're 
going to squeeze the Germans till the pips squeak.' What 
were you thinking of?" 

He leaned back and laughed delightedly. "You know, 
I've been asked that question, one way or another, several 
times. I didn't think I'd meet it in Khartoum." 

"And what did you answer. Sir Eric?" 

"I answered: 'Yes, wasn't that a perfectly silly thing to 
say!' " 

I didn't know what to make of that. In a way, I still 
don't. There is something about it so disarming — in the 
literal sense of the word. I wonder what I would have felt 
and said if I had got that answer from Sir Eric in 1919. 

In those days life and human beings and the course of 
history didn't look to me as complicated and baffling and 
recalcitrant as they do now. My optimisms of early 1914 
had not only survived the Great War, they were livelier 
and more self-assured than ever. Mankind had at last 
learned its lesson. A benevolent supranational organization 
was going to take over the management of human affairs, 
the Clemenceaus and Lloyd Georges and Sir Erics and 
Senator Lodges notwithstanding. Yes, a new era was 
dawning. Little nations as well as big ones, the Jews and 
all other peoples, were to have their wrongs righted, their 
future secured, by a high-minded World Authority. There 
would of course be an interim period of turbulence here 
and there, but that was only natural. 

Chaim Weizmann was then in Paris, heading the dele- 
gation that was presenting the Zionist cause to a sym- 
pathetic Peace Conference. He was by then — and would 
remain for the rest of his life — a world figure. I saw him 
once or twice at a distance, and my heart swelled with 
pride. (I did not dare to approach him; I took it for 
granted that he had forgotten me, and was glad of it.) This 



man was the architect of the Balfour Declaration of 1917; 
if the Jewish claim to a homeland was now on the inter- 
national ordre du jour, Weizmann's role in placing it there 
overshadowed everyone else's. But the homeland was not 
all. The Jewish minorities of Eastern Europe, like all 
other substantial minorities, were to be safeguarded by 
international law in the enjoyment of their cultural iden- 
tities. What more could one ask? 

To be sure, there had been murderous outbreaks against 
the Jews in Poland, and it made one sick that after more 
than a century of foreign occupation and oppression a 
country should celebrate in this fashion the new-found 
freedom which others had bestowed on it. But I was 
willing to allow for a turbulent interim period. Pockets 
of unregenerate prewar viciousness, backwardness, and 
stupidity were bound to linger here and there. They would 
soon be flushed out by the triumphant forces of progress. 
I wince as I set down this bombast; but that is the way I 
thought and talked. 

Two important episodes belong to that Paris time: a 
seven-week spell as secretary-interpreter on the Polish 
Pogrom Commission headed by Henry Morgenthau 
senior; a twelve-month spell as interpreter on the Repara- 
tions Commissions in Berlin and Vienna. The visit to 
Poland fell within the period of my army service; on the 
Reparations Commissions I worked as a civilian. Each 
Commission separately strengthened me in the conviction, 
long since abandoned, that the world's troubles come 
solely from the wickedness of men at the top. 

I was demobilized in Paris in September 1919, and to- 
gether with an army buddy opened, at 19 rue St. Roche, a 
secretarial service called The Franco-American Public 
Stenographer. Paris was then full of American business- 
men, and we made good money. The stenography I learned 


for the enterprise came in handy when I got a job as 
interpreter on the Reparations Commission. Simultaneous 
translation over a transistor system was of course unknown 
then. Each speaker at an international conference had his 
say, in shorter or longer pieces; the interpreter took it 
down and gave it out in one of the official languages. It 
was exhilarating work, full of rapid-fire and tricky lin- 
guistic challenges; it was also very well paid. 

But that was not why I took it on. The writing for 
which I had had myself demobilized in Paris had come 
to a dead end. The Left Bank, which was then assembling 
its expatriates of the American "lost generation," had be- 
come tiresome. I was fed up with the blather at the 
Coupole and the Cafe du Dome. My experience with the 
Polish Pogrom Commission — which I shall describe in 
detail — had shaken me up badly; I was beginning to feel 
that the Jewish problem, like many others, was not by a 
long way on the point of solution: the wickedness of men 
in power symbolized a far greater obstacle than I had 
imagined, and Lord Acton had been only too right. My 
experience on the Reparations Commission confirmed my 

The officials whom it was my duty to interpret for in 
French and English were not in the front rank of the 
famous. I never heard again of Sir Philip Goodenough of 
England, or of Dr. Zaghradnik of Czechoslovakia, or of 
M. Tsouderos of Greece, unless the last is the one who 
became Prime Minister. They were intelligent men; their 
work was important; but my memory and my notes do 
not testify to a single exchange of views that could by a 
generous estimate be considered on a level either with 
their capacities or with the seriousness of the time. I recall 
much squabbling over the allocation of loot, precedence, 
and credit for victory. I recall an atmosphere of excessive 


nationalist sensitivity, and of an indifference to the con- 
dition of the vanquished. And I recall a certain M. 

M. Klobukowski was an elderly, pink-faced, white- 
mustachioed French Assistant-Minister who came to us 
from Paris to discuss an Austrian petition for a downward 
revision of the costs of the Reparations Commission. M. 
Klobukowski summed up his refusal with Gallic Charm: 
"Messieurs^ fai essaye de mal diner a Vienne, mais je n'ai 
pas reussi — I have tried to dine badly in Vienna, and I 
have failed." The Austrian kroner had climbed to the ten- 
thousand-per-dollar mark and was poised for its subse- 
quent flight into the billions; at the Bristol Hotel, at flashy 
cafes like Tonello's and Sachet's, the hangouts of the 
Schieber (black-market profiteers) and foreign correspond- 
ents, one did indeed fare luxuriously for next to nothing 
in foreign exchange; but the streets of Vienna swarmed 
with beggars, and a blight of hunger and hopelessness lay 
on the city. M. Klobukowski had tried to dine badly in 
Vienna, and had failed. It was not the refusal of the peti- 
tion that horrified me; it was the blasted wickedness of 
the form. I choked when I had to interpret. 

The last of my significant contacts with Paris was in 
August 1939, not a sojourn but a five-day pause in transit. 
The New York Post had commissioned me to write, from 
on board, the story of one of the boats laden with Jewish 
refugees which were crawling over the Mediterranean, 
forbidden to make port in Palestine or anywhere else. I 
got to Paris the day the Hitler-Stalin pact was signed, and 
my assignment collapsed. Nobody would be interested in 
the story. There was barely time to run down to Basle, 
where the Zionist Congress was closing its sessions, and 
to get back to London via Paris. 

In the Paris of August 1939 there were no demonstra- 


tions like those that flared up in 1914, no hein-hein-hein 
hoo! hoo!, no madness. Even before the blackout was 
ordered, no evening crowds congregated in the boulevards 
or the Place de la Concorde. I saw only little knots of 
people, for the most part silent, before the offices of Paris 
Soir and Le Matin, scanning the bulletins. I saw scraw- 
lings on the walls: Mieux vaut Hitler que Blum — better 
Hitler than Leon Blum." In London no singing of Tip- 
perary. 1939 was reaping what the years since 1918 had 

I go back to fill a hiatus. From my Paris visit of 1914 I 
returned to Manchester late in August, when the Germans 
were at the Marne and the government was preparing to 
evacuate to Bordeaux. (It got there in 1940. Bordeaux! It 
was only a name to me then, but I was to spend the better 
part of a year there, 1918-1919, attached to Gil, counter- 
espionage.) I managed to get on one of the last trains 
permitted to leave Paris for the north, and during the 
go-stop-go-stop journey I saw the beginnings of that hid- 
eous phenomenon which has since then become a universal 
commonplace — a population in flight ("fleeing from the 
foreign faces and the foreign swords"), desperate men and 
women, weeping children, jammed railroad stations and 
carriages, and bundles, bundles, bundles, baskets, pillows, 
bottles, pots and pans and kettles and toys. A dissolving 
world — but only a miniature of what was to be a quarter 
of a century later. And in Calais I saw the famous London 
buses being rushed to the front. Some of the buses had 
advertisements running along the top. Potash and Perl- 
mutter, Montague Glass's play, the hit of that season; and 
crowds lining the streets of Calais cheered them on with: 
"Vive Potash! Vive Perlmoutaire!" 



In the Paris of August 1914, I also saw the beginning 
of something as symptomatic of later calamity as the refu- 
gees, namely, the bigger and better queues. Oh, that 
waiting in loathsome couloirs ^ that going from office to 
office, that subjection to jack-in-offices! I learned a new 
law: Put a man behind a desk and he'll want the world 
to stand in line. 

Three miserable months ensued for me. It is easy to 
say: "I was a pacifist and refused to join up." It was not 
so easy to sustain the refusal. I doubt whether my "prin- 
ciples" were determinant; a powerful deterrent was pride, 
the dread of ridicule: "Look at him! The socialist-pacifist, 
the Norman Angellite! One drum roll and he's off!" Self- 
ridicule and the ridicule of others. I was therefore the 
more scornful of fellow-socialists who defected. And all 
the time there was a tug at the heart to take the irrevoca- 
ble step, to be done with the suspicion that I was simply 
a coward. And then again, on the other hand: "It'll all be 
over by Christmas anyhow." 

And, oddly enough, I was becoming more Jewish in my 
feelings all the time. There was no road-to-Damascus 
conversion, only a steady deepening of conviction, or pre- 
conviction. I won't try to psychoanalyze myself; I only 
make a guess that in the big upset my fundamental values 
were beginning to assert themselves. 

I got a clerical job. September and October passed. 
"Next spring" took the place of Christmas as the terminal 
of the war; I grew more restive, more irresolute. My 
mother urged me to go to America; my father said: "The 
sons of the noblest English families are lying in the 
trenches." There was discord in the house. I quarreled 
with my father, argued socialism with him in my pidgin 
Yiddish, and exchanged insults with him. My quarrels 
with my father had something to do with my final decision. 



My father was no longer a shoemaker. He had opened 
a shoeshop on Bury New Road and had failed; he had 
opened a grocery shop on Sussex Street and had failed; 
now he was working as a presser in a large clothing factory 
in which my two older brothers were the managers. The 
factory was flourishing on war orders, and my father, now 
in his fifties, was making more money than ever before 
in his life, but under a terrible physical strain (all the 
members of my family have been addicted to overwork). 
He very much wanted to have a son of his in the army, a 
renewal of himself. When I came home on leave from 
France in December 1919, in my American uniform, he 
could not take his eyes off me. He kept repeating, dream- 
ily: "Der serjent, der serjent." He would not believe that 
I had seen no fighting, that in France I had been trans- 
ferred from the infantry to Intelligence. He would have 
it that I was suppressing, lest it come to my mother's ears, 
participation in desperate melees from which — since there 
was no evidence of a wound — I had emerged miraculously 

Well, then, I left for America on the S.S. Adriatic on 
November 14, 1914. Incredible as it may sound today, all 
I had to do was buy a ticket (third class, five pounds — a 
little less than thirty dollars) and get on the boat; no 
quotas, no interviews, no forms, no consulates, no pass- 
port, no visa. I was to be in America for a few months, a 
year at the outset. Then I would come back and take up 
as if nothing had happened. I did not come back, except 
for visits over the years. 


ijOt -l-T,-. ifllfe 

^^ 179 ^3 



S Chaim Weizmann 





HE Manchester o£ my boyhood was the world- 
renowned center of the cotton-goods trade. "Cottonopolis" 
it called itself, and was; its overseas rivals, in New England 
and Japan, were only flexing their muscles in those days. 
In the factory areas of Manchester and of the towns ring- 
ing it you could hear, mornings and evenings, the rush of 
the cataracts of wooden clogs — the weavers going to and 
from work. It was said that on a clear Sunday morning 
ten thousand factory chimneys could be counted from the 
top of the Town Hall tower in Albert Square; the grimi- 
ness of the tower, as of every other building, was strong 
supporting testimony. 

But Manchester had cultural eminence, too. It was the 
home of the famous Homiman Repertoire Theatre, the 
joint product of Horniman's Tea and Miss Horniman's 
passion for the stage; it was the home of the Halle Con- 
certs, of The Manchester Guardian, second in reputation, 
if second at all, to The London Times, and of Manchester 
University, the roster of whose faculty carried names 
which still echo in the world of science and the humanities. 

Ernest Rutherford taught physics there, and Niels Bohr 
was his assistant. Henry Moseley, the young genius who 


was killed in the First World War, had also worked there 
under Rutherford. Flinders Petrie lectured on Egyptology, 
and James Frazer of The Golden Bough came over occa- 
sionally from the sister university of Liverpool to lecture 
on anthropology. Samuel Alexander taught philosophy; 
he was already a name, though he had not yet published 
his Time, Space and Deity. Arthur Schuster and Chaim 
Weizmann and the younger Perkins taught chemistry, 
and Horace Lamb mathematics. 

I can always cause a little flutter in scientific company 
by mentioning casually that I studied physics under Ernest 
Rutherford ("And did you once see Shelley plain?"). 
True, Rutherford taught the old, classical physics; the 
revolutionary experiments he was then conducting on the 
structure of the atom were too new to be offered to his 
students; Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity had 
already been published, but not his General Theory; the 
Bohr model of the atom (itself now called classical) had 
not yet been given to the world; the quantum was known, 
but quantum mechanics was still a long way off. And yet 
— physics under Rutherford! Something must have rubbed 
off on me. I am not believed when I deny it. But Ruther- 
ford was one of my many lost opportunities. All I have of 
him is a personal recollection: a burly, genial man, easily 
moved to laughter, and a superb teacher, holding, with a 
single exception, the attention of his large class by force 
of personality and ingenuity of exposition. I have tried to 
explain the source of my resistance to him, perhaps too 
kindly; but there it was. To top it all, I was chosen by the 
class to express its pride and gratification when he re- 
turned from receiving his knighthood (he became Lord 
Rutherford later) ; a more incongruous choice could hardly 
have been imagined. 

Perkins and Schuster I did not meet; if I heard Frazer 
lecture, as is likely, I have forgotten him, and of Flinders 



Petrie I have only the dimmest recollection. I attended 
one class under Horace Lamb with no benefit whatsoever, 
and I remember a mild and gentle spirit detached from 
this world and from his students, who complained that he 
confided his expositions to the blackboard, not to them. 
My English teacher, Herford, is also a remote figure, but 
Samuel Alexander, whom I met once or twice, stands, or 
rather walks and rides, clearly before me. It was more a 
shamble than a walk, and the sight of him on a bicycle, 
familiar though it was, moved the beholders to mirth and 
solicitude. He was a big, stooping man with a huge beard, 
and looked like a cross between an old clo'man and a 
Hebrew Prophet. He rode his bicycle meditatively, on the 
sidewalk as often as not, miraculous in balance and in 
escape from collisions. We pointed to him affectionately 
as our specimen, the finest extant, and the finest in uni- 
versity history since Hegel, of the absent-minded professor. 
It was told of him that a policeman once asked him gently 
to ride off the sidewalk onto the traffic level, and was waved 
off with the dreamy reply: "Not now, I have just found 
God." It was also told that he was the owner of a meta- 
physical dog by the name of Griff, short for the German 
Begriff (concept). 

I could have known him better, for he was accessible 
to all students, but I was too raw and too conceited to 
use the opportunity, which never came again. Another 
opportunity which I neglected at the time, and which 
came my way again, to my life's enrichment, was Chaim 


I made my first contact with him when I enrolled in 
one of his chemistry courses, and at the interview I was 
too nervous to retain a clear picture of him. He examined 



me briefly and suggested that I sit in on one or two of his 
lectures. I remember, however, my astonishment that a 
man with such a heavy Russian-Jewish accent should be 
a chemistry professor. I was not thinking of discrimina- 
tion; I just could not reconcile Yiddish with chemistry 
or anything else modern and scientific. I must have sup- 
posed that an adult mind tinctured with Yiddish had been 
permanently affected. I could not follow his lectures and 
I put it down to his accent, which, curiously enough, was 
no obstacle to the other students. At his suggestion I 
changed to physics under Rutherford, whose accent was 
colonial but otherwise impeccable; as we have seen, this 
linguistic improvement was not reflected in my phvsics 

I met Weizmann again two years later in the house of 
Isaiah Wassilevsky, the Hebrew teacher who introduced 
me to Bialik's Yiddish poetry. The memory of this en- 
counter is uncomfortable and uneven; vivid patches alter- 
nate with areas faded almost into invisibility. I see the 
room, the armchair under the window in which Weiz- 
mann is seated; I see the bookshelves and the table; I 
hear his voice, low-pitched, guttural, slyly good-natured. 
But I cannot remember why I was there, accidentally or 
by arrangement, and sometimes it is not Wassilevsky who 
hovers in the background, but Massel, the Hebrew poet, 
who also lived in that area; and I cannot remember being 
reintroduced to Weizmann, or even his noticing me, let 
alone addressing a remark to me. Most vivid is my recol- 
lection that I wanted to be rude to him, and, as I already 
knew him to be a prominent Zionist, tell him that I con- 
sidered the Zionist movement a paltry, shabby affair, 
morally indefensible and intellectually beneath contempt. 
This need not mean that I was then in one of my violent 
anti-Jewish phases. Perhaps I do not remember being 



noticed or addressed because I thought at the time that he 
did not recognize me; and perhaps I thought he did 
recognize me and was sparing me the embarrassment of a 
tacit reference to my disappearance from his chemistry 
class. Whatever it was, I made up my mind to dislike him. 

The next time I met him was in 1922, when I was in 
the employ of the Zionist Organization of America, and 
by then he was the world leader of the movement. The 
moment he set eyes on me he said, with a smile that went 
through and through me: "Why, yes, you're the fellow I 
chucked out of my chemistry class." It hadn't been quite so, 
though next door to it; but his manner of saying it made 
me feel, still makes me feel in retrospect, that he was ad- 
ministering a friendly and facetious rebuke for my sullen- 
ness at our encounter in Wassilevsky's (or Massel's) house, 
ten years or so earlier. Lest this should sound like vanity, I 
add that his memory for faces, names, and personalities 
was of unbelievable tenacity; it extended to thousands of 
individuals in a dozen countries. A one-minute encounter 
sufficed to make a permanent impression on him, filed 
away and subject to instantaneous recall twenty or thirty 
years later. If I was immensely flattered at the moment, I 
learned to see the incident in perspective after working 
with him for a few weeks. 

When the Organization assigned me to act as his secre- 
tary during his stay in New York, I was as happy as when 
Miss Clarke had smiled on me. The assignment was re- 
peated several times, till I left the employ of the Organiza- 
tion, and I looked forward with increasing happiness to 
every repetition. My service with the Zionist Organization 
ran from my twenty-seventh to my thirty-third year; I was 
not and am not a hero-worshipper; the happiness I found 
in working with Weizmann was not simply the pride of 
being on close terms with greatness; it was perhaps partly 



that, but if so, it was his peculiar greatness, which had im- 
mense meaning for me in cultural-spiritual terms; and 
with this was mingled a deep personal affection. 

It was an affection that remained steadfast to the end; 
my admiration changed, became more thoughtful, more 
critical, and far more appreciative, as the record of his 
achievements accumulated. When I left the Zionist Or- 
ganization to become a freelance writer and lecturer, I 
maintained contact with him for longer or shorter periods 
at longer or shorter intervals. We would meet in New 
York, in London, and in Israel. The last and longest con- 
tact — it would have been the happiest had we been less 
concerned for his health — was in 1947, when I worked 
with him for some months on his autobiography, Trial and 
Error. He was then seventy-three and at the beginning of 
the sickness he lingered in for the next five years. 


For me, Chaim Weizmann personifies, more than any 
other man I have known, the best that was in the Shtetl 
Jew combined with the qualities of worldly greatness, and 
the more I ponder the mixture the more intriguing I find 
it. He was at home among statesmen, but his spiritual 
home continued to be the townlet of Motol-near-Pinsk, in 
the Pripet marshes, where, he tells us, "Jews lived, as they 
had lived for many generations, scattered islands in a gen- 
tile ocean; and among them my own people, on my father's 
and mother's side, made up a not inconsiderable propor- 
tion." He spoke many languages well, he was most himself 
in Yiddish. He had a commanding and arresting presence; 
when he entered a room it became his; relaxed, among 
intimates, he was still the center of attention, but by virtue 
of a Sholom Aleichem warmth and wit. He was a scientist 



of international repute; but to him, as to my people in 
Manchester, the Bible was the supreme source of life, and 
its figures were his contemporaries. He had been brought 
up with them. Science was his instrument for the rebuild- 
ing of the Jewish homeland; the Bible was his inspiration. 
"Inspiration" is somewhat misleading; it suggests perhaps 
an exalted remoteness where there was a homey familiarity 
as well as reverence. He was familiar with Abraham, 
Moses, and Isaiah in a spirit of neighborliness. So were 
my people; so was Sholom Aleichem's Tevyeh the Dairy- 

He loved and hated the Shtetl just as Mendelle Mocher 
Sforim had done. He loved it for the vision it had guarded 
for him, he hated it for the formlessness of its life, its 
surrender to meanness and self-pity and shlimihlishness. 
He was, supremely, the man of form. Whether in sub- 
mitting a memorandum to the British Foreign Office, or 
in planning his Rehovoth home, he had a perfect instinct 
for the right stance. He prepared carefully, but could im- 
provise brilliantly. I am tempted to say that he knew all 
the tricks of being enormously impressive, and yet there 
was no trickery; his impressiveness flowed from uncal- 
culated total commitment and immense intellectual capac- 
ity. At the same time he was amused, even tickled, by the 
decorative superfluities that often went along with "being 
impressive." The skeptical Shtetl Jew peered, grinning, 
over the shoulder of the impressive statesman, and both 
were genuine. 

I pick at random, from memory, from notes, from earlier 
accounts, illustrative incidents and scenes of which I was 
the witness, I have described in more detail elsewhere his 
appearance in Jerusalem before the UNSCOP (United 
Nations Special Committee on Palestine) in the summer 
of 1947, when I was working with him on his memoirs. 



The session was held in the YMCA building, and the trip 
to Jerusalem was a strain on him. He was no longer the 
magnificent figure I had known in the early days; he was 
to outward appearance only a sick, shuffling old man whose 
sight was failing him. He had to be escorted carefully on 
to the platform, and we who watched from the auditorium 
were filled with apprehension, for his voice was so low 
that it barely carried to the committee members before 
him. We could not hear what he was saying, and we knew 
that some of the members — particularly the Indian — were 
hostile; thus we were horrified when we saw him put aside 
the prepared statement (it had been printed for him in 
half -inch type). In a few moments we were at ease, for it 
was obvious even at a distance that he had established his 
old ascendancy. The faces of the most hostile smoothed 
out, their questions were respectful, almost deferential; 
they knew themselves to be in the presence of greatness. 

That evening (July 8, 1947) a small group of us accom- 
panied the Weizmanns to a performance of the Israel (then 
the Palestine) Philharmonic Orchestra in Rehovoth, and 
late that night I made the following notes: 

It's like accompanying royalty to a command per- 
formance. The cars sweep up to the door after every- 
one has entered and been seated. The concert is held 
up. We come in from the side, and before our coming 
we sense a stirring in the audience, which rises as we 
enter. We advance slowly to our places in the front 
row; the orchestra also rises and plays the Hatikvah 
(the national anthem). All that, and the military 
guard at the gate of the Weizmann house (with its 
grounds and gardens and winding drive), and the mili- 
tary guard at the concert, and Weizmann's personal 
bodyguard, heighten the effect. I feel a bit silly in 



this galere. Applause as we enter, the heartier because 
of W.'s performance before UNSCOP. 

Weizmann feels and believes himself to be demo- 
cratic. So he is — in the way a benevolent "good" king 
is: laboring for his people, making no distinction be- 
tween high and low, thinking of the poor, sharing 
their problems, planning for the amelioration of their 
condition, opposing the rapacity of the rich, the ex- 
ploitation of the masses by demagogues or men of 
wealth, supporting the labor movement, feeling a 
deep and organic kinship with the kibbutzim, keep- 
ing an eye on all elements of growth in the people, 
concerned for spiritual values, fighting the deteriora- 
tion of the Jewish spirit, loathing terrorism more for 
its effect on the Jewish character than for the deaths 
it brings, feeling himself part of every creative effort 
(university, music, drama — and of course science and 
the Weizmann Institute now in the making). In short, 
the touch of the "ideal" king comes from this univer- 
sality in relation to all that is part of Jewish life. But 
there is the "kingly" about him, suggestive of a court. 
Such a man must be wealthy, and live accordingly, 
with taste. W.'s house is distinguished; we call it "The 
White House" (also because of its color): flowers, 
paintings, books, cultivated talk, all sorts of people — 
labor leaders, British government officials, dignitaries 
of all countries, discreet and devoted servants, haul 
ton (much is the work of Mrs. W.). 

At the same time, heimishness when the pressure 
is off; we are all on the simplest terms with him. 

Much that is childish (?) in W. Eats up praise and 
must have it continuously. Makes him feel good and 
enables him to work better. All the same, isn't bam- 
boozled by it. Knows when what he's done is good, 



and when it isn't; not the fool of flatterers. Doesn't 
relish praise — even merited — from people who don't 
like him. When he has done well at a public appear- 
ance, will sit and purr, and wants to be purred at. It 
can grow tiresome; but we go along, we realize he's 
just recharging. 

Impressive consistency and persistency in his life's 
activity. Quite unable to be dishonest toward the 
fundamental, but can be wary, evasive, crafty, though 
in reality not a first-rate politician. Enjoys comfort, 
order, good cooking (not so much now!), tapestry, 
garden and trees, which he delights in showing off. 

Considers himself so much the Jew of this genera- 
tion that his ejection from the Zionist Presidency in 
1931 and again now, 1947, made him aghast. Who 
dares pretend to his place? And indeed all the others 
are small beside him (which is perhaps the best rea- 
son — and the one they necessarily can't have the sense 
and courage to give — for changing. We can't have 
political life thus dominated by one individual). 


If Weizmann's oustanding quality was his sense of form, 
his outstanding spiritual characteristic was his identifica- 
tion with the folk; he confirmed in me the link between 
me and my people; I do not mean here the Jewish people 
in the abstract, but the group I have described, the group 
which gave me life. Because of him I became clear as to 
its meaning beyond the framework of a particular time 
and place; for he was representative of the Jewish people 
as a historic whole, continuous in many displacements 
through some thousands of years. 

He loved the masses in Abraham Lincoln's way; he loved 



the shoemaker, the carpenter, the shopkeeper, the peddler, 
while hating from the depths of his soul the formlessness 
of their lives. Pomp and circumstance as Narrishkeit, fool- 
ishness, was one thing; form as the craftsmanship of life, 
in science, politics, social relations, physical surroundings, 
morals, aesthetics, manners — that was something else. It 
was what the Jewish people had to acquire, and Weizmann 
was its teacher in personal and public life. Theodore 
Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, had understood 
that, too, but there was a profound difference between 
Herzl and Weizmann which is illustrated by a Chassidic 
saying: "To help a man you must get down to where he 
is." Herzl was the avatar type, but the task called for a 
Shtetl man, flesh of its flesh, bone of its bone, a Shtetl man 
who had made the transformation in himself — it needed 
such a man to initiate the transformation, still so incom- 
plete, in the people. He had to draw from the Shtetl the 
po^ver to overcome, against the inertia of centuries, the 
Shtetl's ingrained disdain of order and system, which it had 
come to regard as an essential ingredient of Jewishness. To 
the Shtetl man form was a goyish thing; it had to do with 
uniforms, governments, olam ha-zeh (this-worldliness). But 
olam ha-zeh was the very point. Our exclusion from the 
national essence of olam ha-zeh, namely, a homeland of 
our own, had warped the Jewish outlook, and the straight- 
ening out of this warp in the Jewish people as a whole 
was for Weizmann an integral part of the reconstruction of 
the homeland. 

Weizmann was a great teacher as well as a great leader. 
He was particularly concerned with the unhealthiness of 
the Jewish attitude toward the non-Jewish world. He was 
himself completely at ease among non-Jews, he felt no dis- 
comfort and occasioned none. He did not — as consciously 
assimilating Jews often do — put his hosts under a strain 



practicing and tacitly requesting evasion o£ Jewish sub- 
jects. One of his favorite phrases was: "C'est a prendre ou 
a laisser, take it or leave it." He attributed the lack of 
natural self-confidence, which expressed itself in overcon- 
fidence and submissiveness, to the Jewish sense of abnor- 
mality rising from the lack of a homeland. 

When I served as his secretary I used to accompany him 
to his mass meetings and take notes of his speeches (he 
always spoke extemporaneously). Here are some typical 

"You will always be treated as a guest if you too can 
play the host. The only man who is invited to dinner is 
the one who can have his dinner at home if he likes. . . ." 

"Among the anti-Semites none is more interesting than 
the tender-hearted variety. Their anti-Semitism is always 
based on a compliment. They tell us: 'You are the salt of 
the earth,' and there are Jews who feel themselves extra- 
ordinarily flattered . . . Yet I do not consider it a compli- 
ment to be called 'the salt of the earth.' The salt is used 
for someone else's food, it dissolves in that food. And salt 
is good only in small quantities. If there is too much salt 
in the food, you throw out the food and the salt with 
it. . . ." 

"We are reproached by the whole world. We are told 
that we are dealers in old clothes, junk. We are perhaps 
the sons of dealers in old clothes, but we are the grandsons 
of prophets. Think of the grandsons, and not of the sons." 

It was good to see — literally see — an audience catch at 
these points; there would be an appreciative turning and 
nodding of heads. The listeners knew that he had over- 
come these psychological handicaps of the Jews; they de- 
lighted in the obvious fact that when he ridiculed the 
assimilated Jewish notables, he could not be suspected of 
of envying their status among non-Jews; his was indispu- 



tably higher. He could laugh at the Jewish merchants, 
writers, and financiers who kept repeating: "We have 
risen above the ghetto thing called Jewishness, We are 

I too benefited greatly from his talks and from his gen- 
eral attitude. A fast-moving world has forgotten how the 
idea of a Jewish state was, not too long ago as history is 
reckoned, regarded as a poky, hole-in-wall oddity, classed 
with Rosicrucianism and the lost ten tribes. I am, in fact, 
not completely accustomed to the new situation; I still 
expect to hear: "You believe in the possibility of a Jewish 
state? How very interesting, you must tell me about it," 
meaning: "Oh Lord, how did I get into this?" How easily 
"What on earth is he talking about?" has become "But 
naturally." So forgetting, the world cannot appreciate 
what a long and stony road Weizmann had to tread from 
his dreams in Motol to the State of Israel. He called it his 
forty years in the wilderness, but it was longer. 

The stoniness of that road is known only to those who 
accompanied Weizmann along part of it. There were large 
segments of the Jewish people in ideological opposition 
to the Zionist program; assimilated or assimilating Jews 
of ther bourgeoisie and of the left; non-assimilating Jews 
who wanted to see Jewishness rooted in the Diaspora with- 
out a homeland in Palestine, and these might be extremists 
in religion (Orthodox and Reform) or secularist nation- 
alists; other non-assimilating Jews wanted a Jewish home- 
land but at all costs anywhere but in Palestine. There were 
segments which dreaded any kind of publicity about the 
Jewish people, and there were segments which were indif- 
ferent. In that large segment which listened sympathet- 



ically to Weizmann there was, predominantly, the inertia 
I have described in earlier chapters, and it comprised the 
lower economic strata — transplanted Shtetl-]ews and their 
offspring. They had, on the whole, neither the will nor 
the means to be effective; a generation had to pass before 
that was changed. 

Among these, Weizmann did one part of his labors, a 
part the more difficult because while he taught he had to 
raise funds; he had to be master-teacher and master-mendi- 
cant simultaneously, a double role at once spiritually re- 
warding and humanly humiliating. Sometimes there were 
well-to-do prospects among the sympathetic, and they had 
to be nursed and catered to. There were receptions in 
private homes, to which I went along with Weizmann, and 
some of those evenings still make me shudder. Amid vulgar 
and ostentatious surroundings, this man of exquisite taste 
and subtle intellect endured stupidly obstructive questions 
and coarse admonitions in the style of the Shtetl nogid 
(wealthy man), in the hope, frequently deceived, of obtain- 
ing a few thousand dollars for the pioneers in Palestine. 
He would come away with a sick look, saying: "You have 
to bow to every idol on the road to Palestine." 

His patience was inhuman. He had to inspire, cajole, 
scold, and teach. The Zionist position was paradoxical. To 
prove to the world that they were capable of building a 
homeland (for few believed they were) the Jews first had 
to have an opportunity to build; but to be given such an 
opportunity they first had to prove that they were capable 
of building. It was the classical problem of the beginner 
and "job-open — only-the-experienced-wanted." A vicious 
circle of this kind can never be broken; it has to be eroded; 
and it calls for undiscourageable self-confidence on the 
part of the applicant. But in the Zionist case there was 
little self-confidence among Jews at large; the masses didn't 



really believe in the capacity of the Jewish people to build 
a homeland. 

All this Weizmann understood, and he accepted the 
consequences. But there were Zionist leaders who thought 
otherwise. They denounced his gradualism as timidity 
and lack of vision. As far back as forty years ago their cry 
was: "A Jewish state nowV — which in effect meant a 
Jewish state with practically no Jews in it. Weizmann's 
reply, obstinately repeated a thousand times, was: "A 
Jewish state cannot be created by decree, but by the forces 
of a people in the course of generations. Even if all the 
governments in the world gave us a country, it would only 
be a gift of words; but if the Jewish people will go and 
build Palestine, the Jewish state will become a reality." 

Among his opponents in the Zionist movement were 
men of distinction. Max Nordau, the author of Degenera- 
tion and The Conventional Lies of Civilization (all 
but forgotten now, they made a great stir in their day), 
demanded, soon after the end of the First World War, that 
half a million Jews be transported immediately into 
Palestine — sink or swim; there would be enough survivors 
to ensure success. Vladimir Jabotinsky, breaking with 
Weizmann, created the Revisionist Movement — so named 
because he conceived it to be a return to the principles of 
Theodore Herzl. Herzl, too, had dreamed of a dramatically 
sudden creatio ex nihilo — an international charter to the 
Jews, and rapid immigration under international law. 
There was opposition of quite another kind, headed in 
America by Justice Louis D. Brandeis, who believed that 
the time for Zionist teaching and propaganda was past, and 
the work was straightforward, a businesslike affair. Thus, 
the movement split twice — in America, with Brandeis 
leading his dissident group (he did this through deputies 
after he was appointed to the Supreme Court), and in the 


world Zionist movement with Jabotinsky leading his 

Through all this, Weizmann had to negotiate with 
statesmen and politicians as the leader of the Zionist move- 
ment. He did it by the force of his personality more than 
by the solidity of his immediate backing. We read today 
of Israel's representatives being received by this or that 
president or foreign minister, and accept it as natural, 
which of course it is. But there was no of course about it 
in Weizmann's case; without a state's bargaining power, or 
at least its acknowledged right to be heard, he had to rely, 
for his introduction, on his official status, which was con- 
stantly challenged. His personality had to do the rest. Nor 
was it simply his charm, adroitness, and sincerity that won 
him a respectful hearing; it was the weight he carried as 
the concentration of Jewish history. That was his effective 


Working with him on his memoirs in the summer of 
1947 was like reliving his life with him. He was in poor 
physical condition, but his mind was as vigorous and sup- 
ple as ever, and it was amazing to hear him pour forth his 
recollections and reflections for an hour or an hour and a 
half at a time, in ordered paragraphs, with witty and pun- 
gent interpolations. I would take it all down verbatim on 
the typewriter, then we would go over it, pruning and 
mending, before I carried the material away for final 
polishing and retyping. When we came to some particu- 
larly murderous sideswipe at someone, I would ask: "You 
don't really want that to stay. Dr. Weizmann, or do you?" 
His face would light up. "No, Maur-r-rice, I think we can 
do a little p-r-runing." Then he might add, in Yiddish: 



"He was, to be sure, a mamzer, but that wasn't his fault." 
"Mamzer," bastard, is figurative in Yiddish too, but it has 
a wider range than in English; it may imply grudging 
admiration of a clever rascal or semi-rascal, as well as detes- 
tation of a low, mean character. Weizmann would use it 
in either sense, or in an intermediary one, and the key to 
his feeling was the context and his voice. He would of 
course have softened or deleted these passages without my 
suggestion, but he liked to hear me pick them out. He 
had a great sense of public dignity and of the responsibility 
of his position; in private he allowed himself outbursts of 
petulance, and some of his remarks were cruel, and occa- 
sionally unjust. 

He had suffered much from the enforced propinquity 
of men he disliked or despised but who were useful to the 
movement. He took it out on them in the first draft, but 
like a man writing an abusive letter which he knows he 
is not going to mail. Where he writes positively and affec- 
tionately of people, as he often does, he is genuine. There 
were many companionships and friendships which were a 
deep source of joy to him. 

He indulged in another kind of private savagery in the 
first draft, directed at political opponents with unchal- 
lengeably honest motives. He would pour out his old re- 
sentments; the heat of long-since fought-out battles would 
return to his blood, and he would remember his frustra- 
tions. Then, the emotion having subsided, he would wink, 
adding: "He was — or is — a decent fellow, you know." His 
most derogatory noun for a man was monosyllabic, Yid- 
dish, and obscene. His English, which he had learned in 
his thirties, was excellent, calling for few stylistic correc- 
tions. Most of the work lay in the rearrangement of the 
material. None of the merits of Trial and Error can be 
credited to me, and I feel free to say it is a remarkable 


work; but what a pity that no copy of the first draft exists. 

When I think back to the circumstances under which he 
produced the greater part of the book, I marvel again at 
his will power, his reserves of energy, his flexibility, and 
his capacity to switch his concentrated attention from one 
task to another. He was, at the time, preparing the Jewish 
case for presentation to the UNSCOP — not merely his own 
address, but the general policy. He was also absorbed in 
the development of the Weizmann Institute of Science, 
which had begun three years earlier. There was a constant 
coming and going of men and delegations at the house. 
And if this were not enough for an ailing man, there was 
the terror which was being conducted against the British 
by a small, desperate group of men who held themselves 
accountable to no one but themselves, and a campaign of 
insane vilification against his person and leadership. Scur- 
rilous leaflets accusing him of having sold out to the Brit- 
ish, for money or honors, were circulated throughout the 
country; walls were daubed with denunciations of "Weiz- 
mann-Petain"; and hardest for him to bear, there was the 
terror itself, blind, ferocious, and demoralizing. 

Weizmann writes how he saw "here and there a relaxa- 
tion of the old, traditional Zionist purity of ethics, a touch 
of militarism, and a weakness for its trappings; here and 
there something worse — the tragic, un-Jewish resort to 
terrorism, a perversion of the purely defensive function of 
Haganah [the national army, clandestine till 1948]; and 
worst of all, in certain circles, a readiness to compound 
with the evil, to condemn and not to condemn it, to treat 
it not as the thing it was, namely, an unmitigated curse lo 
the National Home, but a phenomenon which might have 
its advantages." 

The terrorists were a mixed lot: idealists whose minds 
had become unhinged by the multimillion extermination 



of Jews in Europe and the calculating, callous attitude of 
the British rulers of Palestine; adventurers with killer 
instincts in search of justifiable employment; morally 
disoriented youngsters. Their backers, in Palestine and 
America, were an equally mixed assortment; the most 
curious element among them consisted of Jews who had 
never before manifested the slightest interest in Jewish 
affairs and who, when the homeland had been established, 
reverted to their former indifference. Here too there was 
a wide range of characters, from the genuinely intellectual 
type like Arthur Koestler to the squalidly picaresque 
Hollywood type like Ben Hecht. They were fired suddenly 
by the idea of "the fighting Jew"; the thinking Jew, the 
building Jew, the Jew who had endured and come through 
with unscarred psyche was and is meaningless to them. 
They hated Weizmann, and their campaign against him 
has not come to an end with his death. The supporters of 
the terror, to whom history assigns no role in the creation 
of the Jewish state, still raise their voices from time to 
time, not to further the work that remains to be done, 
but — "noteless blots on a remembered name" — to vent 
their frustration in continued vilification of the greatest 
Jew of modern times. 


I return from this digression to the summer months of 
1947. The two or three hours I spent daily with Weizmann 
were of course the smallest as well as the most enjoyable 
part of my labors. The collating, the excision of repeti- 
tions, the verifying of dates, and so on, took much longer. 
Some of this was mechanical, none of it was wholly dull, 
for throughout I was gripped by the unfolding of a fas- 
cinating record as dictated by the man who had lived it. 



What moved me most deeply I have referred to in one of 
my notes made at the time: "Impressive consistency and 
persistence in his life's activity." The irrevocable commit- 
ment began in his childhood, and curious recurrences of 
theme confirm like echoes the unity of purpose, the 
straight line of destiny. 

As a cheder boy in Pinsk, little Chaim Weizmann wrote 
a Hebrew letter to his rebbe, affirming his faith in the re- 
building of Zion and prophesying that England would 
play the major role in it. The letter might have been writ- 
ten by any imaginative youngster who had grown up in a 
Zionist home and who had heard his grandfather tell and 
retell how Sir Moses Montefiore (a legendary name among 
Jews), held in honor by the Queen of England, had come 
to Russia to try to alleviate the condition of Russian Jewry, 
and how the Jews of Vilna had unharnessed the horses and 
dragged the carriage in tumultuous procession through the 
streets of "the Jerusalem of Lithuania." By itself a moder- 
ately interesting childhood incident, the letter is, in con- 
junction with the man's development many years later, an 
extraordinary one. For Weizmann tells how, in 1913, hav- 
ing been denied at Manchester University an academic 
promotion he thought himself entitled to, he almost left 
England to become a professional Zionist in Berlin. He 

Whether, left to my own counsel, I would actually 
have taken this step, I do not know. But it was my wife 
who put her foot down. She disliked Germany; so 
for that matter did I. I cannot help thinking she was 
guided by something more than personal considera- 
tions, either for herself or me. In any case, I shudder 
to think of the possible results if I had yielded to the 
importunity of my friends (in Berlin) and my own 
momentary impulse. 



He tells also how, as a boy in Pinsk, he used to take 
part during the Purim holiday in the money-box collec- 
tions for Palestine: 

Purim always came in the midst of the March thaw, 
and hour after hour I would go tramping through 
the mud of Pinsk, from end to end of the town. I 
remember that my mother was accustomed, for reason 
of economy, to make my overcoats much too long for 
me, to allow for growth, so that as I went I repeatedly 
stumbled over the skirts and sometimes fell headlong 
into the icy slush of the streets. I worked late into the 
night, but usually had the satisfaction of bringing in 
more money than anyone else. Such was my appren- 
ticeship for the activities which, on a rather larger 
scale, have occupied so many years of my later life. 

"Rather larger scale" was British understatement, which 
Weizmann liked and employed effectively. The organized 
campaigns and "drives" of the later Zionist movement 
have dwarfed into insignificance the collections of thirty 
or forty years ago, when two or three million a year from 
American Jewry was the limit, but Weizmann in his day 
was the greatest individual mendicant in Jewish history 
and perhaps, considering the economic strata among which 
he did his main work, the greatest in all history. I asked 
him once what difference he had found between soliciting 
on the ten-kopeck and the ten-thousand-dollar levels. He 
answered that you heard the plea of poverty more fre- 
quently on the ten-thousand-dollar level. "It's usually after 
an elaborate dinner for twenty; you look around at the 
furnishings, the tapestries and the pictures, and you feel 
like returning the dinner — on the spot. When a poor man 
is mean he makes no bones about it; he slams the door in 
your face, a swift and painless operation. I can remember 
certain houses in Pinsk where I was regularly refused 



with: 'I've already given.' It was a lie, as we both knew, 
but it was a time- and energy-saver. I liked best the man 
who answered coolly: 'I don't give, I'm a swine that way.' 
I had no quarrel with him. The rich aren't straightfor- 
ward, they keep you dangling, they make a pleasurable 
game of it, they like to see you with your tongue hanging 
out. And when they do give they make you sweat for it.' 
But he had encountered much generosity among the rich, 
too, and remembered it gratefully. 

His apprenticeship in this field of mendicancy served 
him well in another field, the political. In a sense he 
begged his way to the Jewish state at the doors of chancel- 
leries. There too he knew what it meant to be kept dan- 
gling, with tongue hanging out, but there too he 
remembered with gratitude acts of generosity and under- 
standing. He was contemptuous of Zionists who accused 
him of lack of firmness when there was nothing to be firm 
with. "They want me to go to Downing Street and bang 
on the table. I could get in, and I could bang on the table 
once, and that would be the end of it." He used to call 
Downing Street his Via Dolorosa. 

To understand the consistency of his life, one must 
realize that he was not a Zionist by conviction any more 
than one is a human being by conviction. There was 
nothing else for him to be. Thus, whatever vicissitudes 
and changes he went through as a person, the Zionist idea 
worked in and through them. As a child in Motol, as a 
youth in Pinsk, as a student in Berlin and Geneva, as a 
chemistry teacher in Manchester, as director of a British 
Admiralty laboratory in the First World War, he was 
Weizmann the Zionist. When he came to full leadership 
in the Zionist movement, he had passed through all the 
intermediary stages; the boy, the youth, the man had lived 
his essential life in preparation, at meetings, conferences, 



congresses, traveling, speaking to handfuls in tiny halls, 
speaking to large audiences, arguing with individuals. 

He had greatness of personality as seen from within, as 
well as consistency of purpose. A narrow personality united 
with obsessional persistence and unflagging energy can 
achieve much. I have known such men; by their persistence 
and energy they become multiple until they are like a large 
island of coral-reef insects; they perform wonders by the 
sheer multiplicity of their small, relentless selves. Nor 
do I mean by "greatness of personality as seen from 
within" the power to fascinate, the imposing or stage-filling 
personality, which was developed to such a high degree 
in Weizmann, so that people were afraid to meet him lest 
they be swept off their feet. Lord Balfour, a friend and 
admirer of Weizmann's, hearing of an anti-Zionist who 
refused to meet Weizmann for that reason, called the man 
a coward. I would not wholly agree. The power to fas- 
cinate is sometimes nothing more than itself, like the 
technical ability to hypnotize which I have sometimes seen 
displayed by trivial and unworthy men, night-club per- 
formers for instance. Weizmann had obsessional persist- 
ence as well as the power to charm, almost to hypnotize, 
and these qualities helped to place him on the stage of 
world affairs. But I can think of him as essentially the 
same man without these qualities and without his external 


m 202 m 



The Scientist 



N THE WALL o£ the marble-pavcd plaza that leads to 
Weizmann's tomb, these words o£ his are inscribed: 

I feel sure that science will bring to this land both 
peace and a renewal of its youth, creating here the 
springs of a new spiritual life. And here I speak of 
science for its own sake and applied science. 

I have paused many times before this inscription, trying 
to fit it into the life of the man. Had he not been a 
scientist, I would not look for deeper meaning; I would 
pass over it as the sort of thing one says nowadays. But 
he was a scientist, and this was his scientific credo. 

The spiritual value of science seems to have meant 
to him its intellectual and moral discipline, the main- 
tenance of standards, the conquest of the Shtetl handicaps. 
It meant integrity, modesty, and form. About the found- 
ing of the Daniel Sieff Research in Rehovoth — the fore- 
runner of the Wezmann Institute — he wrote: 

The whole experiment of setting up a research 
institute in a country as scientifically backward as 
Palestine is beset with pitfalls. There is, first, the 
risk of falling into the somewhat neglectful habits 


of Oriential countries; a second danger is that of 
losing a sense of proportion because of the lack of 
standards of comparision. One is always the best 
chemist in Egypt or in Palestine when there are no 
others. Also, if one turns out a piece of work which 
in England or America would be considered modest 
enough, one is apt to overvalue it simply because 
it has been turned out in difficult circumstances. The 
standard and quality of the work must be watched 
over most critically and carefully. Many of the 
publications issued by scientific institutions in back- 
ward countries are very much below the level re- 
quired elsewhere, but the contributors to these 
publications are very proud of them because the 
local level is not high. I made up my mind that this 
sort of atmosphere should not prevail at the Sieff 
Institute, and that it should live up to the highest 

There were several ways of combatting the dangers 
I have indicated. First there was the proper selection 
of the staff and the infusion into it of the right 
spirit — that of maintaining the highest quality. Every 
member was enjoined to take his time over his piece 
of work, and not merely have publication in view. 

But while he was fighting the negative aspect of a 
Shtetl psychology, he still appealed to the affirmations in 
it. He wrote, on the subject of the Shtetl tradition: 

Our great men were always a product of the sym- 
biosis between the ancient, traditional Talmudic 
learning in which our ancestors were steeped in the 
Polish or Rumanian ghettos or even in Spain, and the 
modem western universities with which their children 
came in contact. There is often as not a long list of 



Talmudic scholars and Rabbis in the pedigrees of 
modern scientists. In many cases they themselves 
came from Talmudic schools, breaking away in their 
twenties and struggling through to Paris or Zurich 
or Princeton. It is this extraordinary phenomenon — 
a great tradition of learning fructified by modern 
methods — which has given us both first class scientists 
and competent men in every branch of academic 
activity, out of all relation to our numbers. 

Weizmann was himself a remarkable example of the 
blend of tradition with modern science. He had never 
attended a Yeshivah (Talmudical academy), but his 
Jewish education was thorough. He was not a religious 
Jew in the formal sense, and like his father — a timber 
merchant who studied Maimonides in his leisure hours — 
he had no high regard for clerics, but his Jewish drive 
cannot properly be described as secular. It was a 
kind of blend which he did not trouble to think 

His emphasis on applied science as the key to the 
renewal of the Jewish homeland needs no explanation 
nowadays, when the whole world is caught up in the 
scientific revolution; but there is some interest in ob- 
serving how his own scientific equipment played into his 
Zionist commitment. He was a chemistry teacher at Man- 
chester University when he met Balfour in 1906 and won 
him to the Zionist cause; conceivably such a meeting 
could have taken place anyhow; but it is doubtful whether 
he would have met Churchill in 1916 if not for his dis- 
covery of a fermentation process for the production of 
acetone, a chemical badly needed for the conduct of the 
war. A popular legend has it that the British government 
"awarded" Palestine to the Jews in return for Weizmann's 
war services; it is a beautiful instance of the myth at work 



simplifying and distorting a complicated truth. We meet 
it again in 1942, when John G. Winant, the American 
ambassador to Great Britain, invited him on behalf of 
President Roosevelt to come to the United States and 
work there on the problem of synthetic rubber. "Mr. 
Winant advised me earnestly," writes Weizmann, "to 
devote myself as completely as possible to chemistry; he 
believed that I would thus serve best the Allied Powers 
and the Zionist cause. I promised Mr. Winant to follow 
his advice to the best of my ability. Actually I divided 
my time almost equally between science and Zionism." 
Weizmann was too worldly wise to rely on the prospect 
held out by Winant, however sincere the latter may have 
been. He knew that in political life a reward must be 
earned twice, first deserving it, then collecting it, and 
the second half usually calls for more exertion. Thus 
Weizmann looked on his services to the British and 
American governments as opportunities to urge the claims 
of Zionism in influential quarters, and had he not pursued 
these opportunities as assiduously and skillfully as his 
scientific work there would have been no "reward." An 
obituary notice on Weizmann in an American weekly 
said: "His vibrant, eloquent voice, lowered for emphasis, 
cutting deftly through details to the essentials, was one 
of the greatest one-man propaganda instruments in 
history." He got some of his most important audiences 
through his scientific usefulness; what he achieved through 
them had nothing to do with science. This the myth does 
not understand. 

Another instance of the indirect but creative connection 
between science and Zionism came vividly to my attention 
eight years after Weizmann's death. It was here, in the 
Weizmann Institute in Rehovoth, that the International 
Conference on Science in the Advancement of New States 



was held in the summer of i960. The ceremonial opening 
in the plaza, under the open sky, was immensely impres- 
sive, with its delegates from Ghana and Ethiopia, from 
Cameroon, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Iran, Nepal — 
thirty-odd new Afro-Asian states and a few old ones 
in process of renewal — its Israeli and foreign scientists, 
its thousands of visitors. There was festivity in the bright 
air. The Israelis were proud, and a little awed; born for 
the most part in other lands before there was an Israel, 
they had been accustomed in a millennial tradition to 
the status of guests of uncertain standing; now they were 
playing host to a newborn world, and not merely as 
a gesture, but for a highly practical purpose in line with 
a universal need. The practical side had two facets. 
Israeli specialists had already been at work in the Afro- 
Asian countries, and contingents from these had already 
been receiving instruction in Israel's schools, co-operatives, 
and kibbutzim. There were valuable political results for 
Israel, honestly come by; and it was the expansion of the 
Weizmann tradition. While it would be absurd to say that 
a similar tradition would not have been founded without 
him — Herzl had already laid down the principle that 
without science a state cannot be created in modern times 
— Weizmann's example and name added to it the fruitful 
element of an eponym. 

There were two weeks of lectures, seminars, papers, 
discussions, proposals, resolutions — to what degree im- 
mediately useful it is hard to tell. Scientific conferences, 
I am told, are usually showpieces and marking-points, their 
value lies in personal contacts, also in what comes before 
and after. With luck a conference becomes memorable 
by virtue of some phrases, and one such phrase, in this 
instance, made a lasting impression on me, and not at 
all in a "scientific" way. A very commonplace phrase it 



was, too, a cliche thrown out, I imagine, without awareness 
of its peculiar relevance to the time, place, and occasion. 
The delegate from Belgian Congo, called on for a few 
words, spoke in French, thanked Israel for having been 
the first country to send a group of doctors and nurses 
to his country, and closed with: "Vive la Repuhlique d' 
Israel, vive I' Afrique libre." I started; I could imagine 
the spirit of Weizmann called up from the nearby tomb, 
like Saul's by the witch of Endor, but not reluctantly, 
not to reproach and foretell disaster, smiling, rather, to 
hear his country's name linked with the latest of human- 
ity's efforts to break the bonds of the past. The sons of 
the Shtetl had come a long way; through them the Jewish 
people was re-entering world history as a recognized con- 
temporaneous force. 

With all this, I keep looking for other meanings in the 
inscription: "Science . . . creating here the springs of 
a new spiritual life." It has a special poignancy "here," 
where a spiritual life developed long before the begin- 
nings of science. Will Israel make a comparable contri- 
bution to the solution of the science-and-humanism, 
science-and-religion problem? During the last few years, 
and particularly during this long Sabbath-summer, I 
have been preparing myself for the examination of this 
problem by a consistent effort to learn at least the ele- 
mentary language of science; but it is a problem with 
which Weizmann himself was never occupied. 

He was not a philosopher of science, and wrote nothing 
about its epistemological aspects, like a Mach or a Bridg- 
man. He was a scientist-humanist, naturally, as it were, 
never troubling himself about a justification. His outlook 
was spiritual-practical; science was a practical matter and 
also a discipline in truthfulness. He was concerned with 
truthfulness, not absolute Truth. Even so, he shied away 



from certain relevant questions: Are the skills of science 
transferrable to the humanistic field? Are scientists, in 
their non-scientific relations, truthful, more honest, more 
"spiritual on the whole than laymen"? 

Other, "deeper" questions seemed to trouble Weizmann 
even less. He was not concerned with the widespread 
popular complaint that modern science is making the 
world unintelligible to common sense. I do not, for myself, 
share this view: or rather, it is my view that the world 
was never intelligible to common sense. The "common- 
sensicality" of Newtonian physics, of matter composed of 
discrete particles moving about in absolute space, was 
a popular delusion. Newton himself was completely baffled 
by the phenomenon of gravitational "action at a distance"; 
it didn't make sense to him; he died a baffled man. The 
new explanation, the "curvature of space," and matter 
"naturally" moving along the shortest available line, is 
called, conceptually, complete nonsense. Conceptually 
speaking, it is not greater nonsense than action at a 
distance. It just happens to be new, and when we have 
got used to it (without understanding it, of course), we 
shall think it just as common-sensical as we thought the 
classical physics to be. (What we call an explanation is 
usually a restatement of the new un-understood in terms 
of the old un-understood.) But we can say that the science 
of the last half century has jolted us again into an appre- 
hension of the unintelligibility of the physical world in 
terms of everyday common sense. The very big and the 
very little, inter-galactic space and intra-atomic space, 
do not conform to anything conceivable — in the sense 
of picturable — by us. We make "models" of the atom, 
but they are no more like an atom than a railroad time- 
table is like a journey. Religion asks us to believe what 
we cannot prove, and science proves what we cannot 



conceive. Of the events in the sub-atomic world we may 
say with Goethe: 

Das Unheschreibliche, 
Hier ist's getan — 

even though it is to a large extent heschreihlich as cor- 
responding to calculations. 

To Weizmann the world and life were intelligible and 
manageable. With all his subtlety, he was in a sense 
simpliste, which makes him the more complex. His 
scientific bent and his spiritual intuitions were in com- 
plete harmony, and whether this was so in symbiosis or 
by balance was unimportant to him. 


® 210 @ 



I Founding Fathers 



.MONG the men who stood close to Weizmann there 
were two whose influence on me was second only to his. 
They were, like him, products of the Shtetl, but as different 
from him as they were from each other. One was Shmarya 
Levin, whose memory as a dazzling orator is cherished by 
a dwindling old-time Yiddish-speaking generation; the 
other was Chaim Nachman Bialik, whose poetry will be 
read as long as Hebrew lives. 

Shmarya Levin was in America when I arrived in 1914, 
and whenever he made a public appearance I was in the 
front row. I followed his addresses with difficulty at first, 
then with increasing joy as I acquired intimacy with the 
language by dint of reading, of frequent visits to the 
Yiddish theater — those were the great days of Maurice 
Moskowitz and Jacob Adler — and of conversations with 
Uncle Berel. My first translations were of Levin's articles 
in the now long-defunct Yiddish daily. Die Varheit. In 
the Yiddish phrase, I served my barber's apprenticeship 
on his beard. Years later I translated his three-volume 
autobiography. From Levin I first learned that Zionism 
was something more than a nationalist-political movement 
or a philanthropic refugee undertaking; he introduced me 


to the philosophy of Achad Ha-am, whose disciple he was, 
together with Weizmann, and to the Biblical, tolkloristic, 
and spiritual roots of the movement. I have many reasons 
for remembering him with gratitude. 

Levin was a man of great gifts and little discipline; he 
wasted much of his life at chess, and was the unfortunate 
kind of addict who plays poorly and hates to lose. Even I 
used to win a game from him now and again, and I might 
have won oftener if he had not had the habit of taking 
back moves — which he always did in a high state of in- 
dignation and resentment, as if some invisible and stupid 
kibbitzer had forced his hand. On my visits to Palestine 
in later years, I would always find him at the Cafe Vienna, 
in Jerusalem, absorbed in a game of chess. At Zionist 
Congresses he sometimes had to be dragged away from 
the board almost forcibly to attend to serious business 
in the plenum. He played in what we call the Yeshivah 
manner, accompanying his moves with audible singsong 
meditations on Talmudic aphorisms. He confesses in his 
memoirs that two arts, as he called them, chess and smok- 
ing, played an altogether too important part in his life, 
adding that in both of them he reached his peak early and 
registered no advance with the passing years. I sympathized 
with Levin; I too am by nature indolent, but unlike 
him have become reconciled to the fact that you can't 
beat work for getting things done. 

In appearance Levin suggested a stage Mephistophe- 
les: he was tall and lean, with a long, dark, furrowed face, 
brilliant eyes, the right one with a strong outward cast, a 
small pointed beard, and something like horns — a peculiar 
growth of hair standing up at the corners of his temples. 
On the platform he dominated an audience by his af>- 
pearance, his intensity of manner, and his brilliant oratory. 
His Yiddish was at once formal and racy, colorful with 



folk allusions and quotations from Bible, Talmud, and 
Midrash; when I translated him I had to go round many 
of the passages; their point depended so much on intra- 
mural intimacies, on exegesis, and tradition familiar only 
to cheder and Yeshivah Jews. He made the Bible alive 
by finding in it parallels or contrasts with current affairs; 
for him, as for my people, the Bible covered all possible 
human situations. 

It was a common practice to refer to the Russian Czar 
as Pharaoh, oppressor of the Jews, the only difference 
being that the Czar was willing to let them go. Like 
Pharaoh, said Levin, Nicholas II kept making promises 
and breaking them; he called a Duma and dissolved it, 
called another and dissolved it. "He promised and re- 
tracted, promised and retracted," said Levin, "till the 
Red Sea swallowed him up." 

One of his most famous parallels went back to pre- 
World War I Zionist history. A number of wealthy Jews 
in Germany were ready to contribute toward the develop- 
ment of a technical school in Palestine (it has become the 
famous Haifa Technion, Israel's M.I.T.) as a purely 
philanthropic enterprise on condition that the language 
of instruction be German, not Hebrew. In this they were 
acting as patriotic Germans supporting Germany's im- 
perialist Drang nach Osten. Their spokesman was a Dr. 
Paul Nathan, head of the Union of German Citizens of 
the Jewish faith, an organization analogous to the Amer- 
ican Council for Judaism today. Levin, denouncing him, 
made a great play on the David-Bathsheba story and the 
denunciation of David by the Prophet Nathan, He cited 
the parable of the rich man with many flocks and herds 
and the poor man with only one litle ewe-lamb "which 
he had brought and nourished up, and it grew up to- 
gether with him and his children; it did eat of his own 
meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, 



and was unto him as a daughter." "We have one little 
ewe-lamb of a school in Palestine," cried Levin, "and 
Germany has a thousand schools. Like the rich man who 
forebore to take of his own flock to entertain a visitor, 
Germany with her thousand schools wants to take away 
our one little school. But who is the villain of the story 
today? Not David, but the false prophet. Nathan, thou 
art the man!" 

Levin had a biting wit, not always under control, and 
some of his sallies must have been costly to the Zionist 
movement — but how refreshing they were! He made his 
first visit to America in 1907, and in spite of his identifi- 
cation with Zionism was invited, as a Jewish celebrity, to 
the home of Jacob Schiff, the anti-Zionist philanthropist. 
The host, anxious to make his position clear, stated it in 
the following terms: "I want you all to know that I 
consist of three parts: I am an American, I am a German, 
and I am a Jew." Levin, asked to address the assembled 
guests, wanted to know how Mr. Schiff effected the divi- 
sion; was it perpendicularly or horizontally? And, if 
horizontally, which section did he allocate to the Jewish 
people? There were hopes that Schiff would some day 
become, if not a Zionist, at least a contributor to Pales- 
tinian charities, and Levin's question was not helpful. 

Levin was on friendly terms with Julius Rosenwald, 
another famous philanthropist who, somewhat less vio- 
lently anti-Zionist than Schiff, helped Levin in a publishing 
venture in Palestine, as a gesture toward Jewish culture, 
of course, and not, God forbid, to promote Zionism. 
Rosenwald twitted Levin: "The most I'll do for you in 
a personal way is to build myself a villa in Chicago and 
call it Tel Aviv." "You've got it upside down," said 
Levin. "We want you to build a villa in Tel Aviv and not 
call it Chicago." 

There were many Jews who contributed to Palestine 



philanthropic funds while disclaiming any intention to 
promote the building of a Jewish homeland. It was not 
their fault, they argued, that Palestine happened to have 
Jews who needed help or offered a refuge for Jews who 
could not find a haven elsewhere. If in effect the Zionist 
cause was thereby promoted, let the Zionists bear the 
blame. Levin, whose humor often ran to ribaldry, likened 
these good-natured people to a man who sleeps with a 
woman out of sheer kindness and washes his hands of 
any unintended consequences; and, in less Rabelaisian 
vein, to an atheist who is outraged because the only place 
available to the victims of a flood happens to be a 

Of a very distinguished American rabbi whose activities 
were multifarious. Levin said: "He's a big man; as big 
as the Woolworth building, and if you look closely you'll 
see that he too is made up of nickels and dimes." His 
favorite Yiddish word for a fool was the same as Weiz- 
mann's, but Levin improved on it and coined the "yam- 
fool." Yam is Hebrew and Yiddish for "sea," and Levin 
explained that this variety of fool was not to be found 
on land; his habitat was the ocean deep, among the other 
primal monsters. Thenceforth, in Zionist circles, so-and-so 
was a yam^ without the indelicate addition. Yam could also 
designate a low type of person. There was, many years 
ago, a Yiddish journalist writing under two names for 
a New York daily. That he was an anti-Zionist was the 
least of his defects; he was equally cynical, scurrilous, and 
boastful under both names. When Levin discovered that 
the two men were one, he was overjoyed. "Thank God! 
One yam fewer in the world." 

Levin was an unhappy man, knowing that his im- 
patience and his indolence, in both of which he differed 
so greatly from Weizmann, were harmful to himself and 



to the cause. He lacked also Weizmann's spontaneous 
liking for simple people. But in spite of these limitations 
he was a great popular force. He lifted Zionist exposition 
to a new plane, and he was loved by the masses because 
he never spoke down to them. I learned from him a 
principle of the utmost importance to a professional 
lecturer: You may assume that an audience is uninformed 
in your field, but never assume that it is stupid. 

The lifelong friendship between Levin and Weizmann 
began in Berlin in the late eighteen-nineties. They were 
both members, though not at the same time, of the Jildisch- 
Russisch Wissenschaftliches Verein, a Berlin group of 
students who long before the coming of Herzl were advo- 
cating the creation of a Jewish State. It was in effect a 
group of Zionist founding fathers, extraordinary men who 
dreamed the maddest of dreams; for if Zionism looked 
freakish and harebrained in the early nineteen-hundreds, 
what must it have looked like twenty years earlier? By 
1914, when I became a Zionist, famous men like Max 
Nordau and Israel Zangwill had declared for the move- 
ment. Herzl had left his indelible stamp on it. The En- 
cyclopaedia Britannica of 1911 devotes two whole pages 
to it — and, incidentally, not much more to Communism. 
There were dozens of Jewish colonies in Palestine. But 
in the eighteen-nineties there were only the faintest be- 
ginnings of colonization, and in the Western world the 
movement, which was not yet a movement but an obscure 
and formless, though powerful, folk agitation, must have 
looked correspondingly madder. Yet there they were, 
these Russian Jewish students, nearly all of them penniless, 
sublimely self-confident, sublimely sure of their historic 
mission, talking big, but big, about the Jewish state-to-be, 
about international diplomacy, the alignment of the 
powers, the buying off of Turkey. "Mad" must be taken 



literally here. When Theodore Herzl showed the manu- 
script of his Judenstaat (The Jewish State), the classic 
document of modern Zionism, to a friend, he was implored 
to seek medical treatment. No doubt, similar counsel was 
given more than once to members of the Judisch-Russisch 
Wissenschaftliches Verein. 

The brilliance of these men and their apparent nor- 
mality outside their one obsession must have strengthened 
the suspicion of mental derangement. All of them were 
gifted in various fields. Herzl was political reporter for 
the Wiener Neue Freie Presse, The Manchester Guardian 
of Europe, attached to the French Chamber of Deputies. 
He was an engaging feuilletonist and playwright, a man 
of address and wide reading, the kind of man one calls 
civilized, until suddenly, one day . . . And so it was with 
Weizmann, Levin, and others. If you kept Levin on Rus- 
sian politics, for instance, or German literature, you 
could listen for hours with profit; but if you should happen 
accidentally to touch on the Jewish problem — "Good 
heavens," you thought, "what a pity!" And in a sense 
these men were in fact derailles. That many of them for- 
feited distinguished worldly careers was to be expected 
and is not to their discredit: but in their Zionist fervor 
they also neglected to follow a systematic training which 
would have enhanced their usefulness to the movement. 
The impracticality of the Shtetl clung to many of them 
throughout their lives. Weizmann writes of them: 

At first I was greatly overawed by my fellow-stu- 
dents, among whom I was the youngest. Fresh from 
little Pinsk, with its petty collections and small-town 
discussions, I was staggered by the sweep of vision 
which Motzkin and Syrkin and the others displayed. 
There was also a personal detail which oppressed 



me at the beginning. I was only a student of chemistry; 
they were students of philosophy, history, economy, 
law and other "higher" things. I was immensely at- 
tracted to them as persons and as Zionists; but 
gradually I began to feel that in their personal 
preparations for life they were as vague as in their 
Zionist plans. I had brought with me out of Russia 
a dread of the "eternal student" type, the impractical 
idealist without roots in the worldly struggle, a 
figure only too familiar in the Jewish world of forty 
and fifty years ago. I refused to neglect the lecture 
hall and the laboratory, to which I gave at least six 
or seven hours a day. I acquired a taste for research 
work. In later years I understood that even deeper 
motives impelled me in those days to attend strictly 
to the question of my personal equipment for the 
life-struggle . . . 

The deeper motives which underlay Weizmann's sys- 
tematic approach to his life problem were connected in 
part with those characteristics which turned him into 
an able scientist; in part they were connected with his 
belief in himself, only tacit at the beginning, as a "man 
of destiny." The Weizmann archives here in Rehovoth 
reveal how early Wiezmann began to keep copious records 
and copies of correspondence. He probably did not foresee 
that they would some day be historical documents; he did 
not foresee, of course, that he would be the first president 
of the Jewish state; he was only obeying an impulse, but 
the "deeper motives" were already there. 

There was no such subconscious arriere pensee in 
Levin's makeup. Not that he was without ambition or 
suffered from modesty; and he was as organically commit- 
ted to Zionism as Weizmann, and was equally con- 



vinced of the inevitability of a Jewish state. I doubt 
whether the sharpest insight would have picked out the 
superior figure between these two Berlin Russian-Jewish 
students; but Weizmann became a world figure, while 
Levin's reputation is confined to the Jewish people, and 
even among them he is being forgotten. There was a 
time when he was better known than Weizmann, and not 
just because he was a few years older. He was a member 
of the Russian Duma when Weizmann was a struggling 
chemistry teacher in Manchester; he attracted large 
audiences in Europe and America. But his achievements 
came by fits and starts, not only because of his laziness 
but because his high opinion of himself was not geared 
to greatness. Every movement knows such men, gifted, 
useful, devoted, but lacking in a kind of inexorability. 
They don't "take hold" of history, they are not predestined 
leaders, their impact on people fails somewhere. Levin 
was admired or disliked; Weizmann had his fanatical 
followers and his fanatical enemies. 

The third of my teachers in Zionism and Jewishness, 
the poet Chaim Nachman Bialik, began to mold my 
thinking some years before I met him in person. When 
I had mastered Yiddish in America, I turned again to 
the poem Wassilevsky had read to me in Manchester — 
Bialik's own translation of his Hebrew City of Slaughter, 
a bitter cry of outrage and despair wrung from him by 
the Kishinev pogrom of 1903. Later, when my Hebrew 
was good enough, I translated some of his poems from 
the original, and the Zionist Organization issued a small 
volume of my translations in 1926, on the occasion of 
Bialik's first visit to America. It was then that I got to 
know him in person. Still later I saw much of him in 
Palestine, especially when I lived two doors from his 
house on the street named after him. 



I have not met or read of a poet who looked and talked 
less like one than Bialik. He had the round face of a 
clever moujik, and the build of a medium-sized but 
hefty butcher. He must have had in him the blood of 
Khazars, the medieval Tartar converts to Judaism. From 
his appearance you expected sound, pithy, earthy conver- 
sation, and you were not disappointed. You also expected 
him to be a good businessman, and he was. He had run 
a large and successful printing plant, first in Odessa, then, 
after the Bolshevik revolution, in Berlin, and finally in 
Tel Aviv. He was completely without literary affectation; 
but when you got him on to the subject of books he 
blazed into unquenchable enthusiasm. His Jewish erudi- 
tion was enormous, and he was widely read in other 
literatures. Once launched, he was not to be stopped, 
and one listened fascinated by the range of his knowledge 
and the luminousness of his observations; and still, never 
a hint that he was a poet of the first magnitude, with few 
equals in the modem world and none at all in Hebrew 
since the time of Yehudah Halevy nearly a thousand years 

Shmarya Levin was his partner in the publishing house 
of Moriah, which issued a standard set of the Hebrew 
classics, edited by Bialik. To be in their company when 
the conversation veered from business to literature was 
a fearsome and unforgettable experience; one got a living 
illustration of the riddle of the immovable body and the 
irresistible force, for both of them were enthusiasts and 
tremendous talkers. One of them would be off on a streak, 
the other interjecting desperately every minute or two: 
"But let me say . . ." only to meet the ferocious response: 
"Don't interrupt!" The torrent continued till the speaker, 
pausing to catch his breath, would suddenly find himself 
on the outside, vainly interjecting in his turn: "But let 



me say . . ." The bystander, of course, didn't have a 
chance and didn't want one. Levin revered Bialik as one 
reveres a prophet, but the compulsive talker is not his 
own master. 

In company there was a perpetual good humor about 
Bialik which was utterly incomprehensible when one re- 
membered certain of his poems which could only have 
issued from a deeply tormented soul. In his 1926 visit to 
America I traveled with him to several cities where he 
addressed audiences in Yiddish, I in English. I was pre- 
pared, when we set out, to have a moody genius on my 
hands, and I braced myself for an exercise in tactfulness 
and understanding. It was, instead, a jolly experience. He 
was fascinated by the American scene, general and Jewish, 
and his observations, usually directed at the contrast be- 
tween America and Jewish Palestine, were ingenious. I 
showed him, as a typically American product, a copy of 
The Saturday Evening Post, which sold for a nickel in 
those days. It consisted of two hundred pages, more than 
half of them advertising. He said: "In opulent America 
the problem of a magazine is: how low can we price it 
without losing our advertising value? In poor Palestine it 
is: how high can we price it without losing our readers?" 
"I've noticed," he once remarked, "that here in America 
you say: It's so many hours from this place to that. The land 
is so big that distance loses its meaning. In little Palestine 
we speak of kilometres; every one of them counts." He 
was vastly amused when he listened to my English ad- 
dresses; he understood not a word of them, but every now 
and again his name would bob up, and it sounded to 
him like: "Mumble-jumble-bumble — BIALIK — mumble- 
jumble-bumble— CHAIM NACHMAN BIALIK— mum- 
ble-jumble-bumble , . ." As the distinguished visitor, he 
always spoke after me, and he would comment in various 



ways on his impressions. "I have just heard my friend Sam- 
uel conducting me through long and lightless corridors." "I 
felt like a cat in a sack being beaten from time to time." "I 
felt like a swimmer on a stormy sea; now and again I came 
up for air, most of the time I was drowning." He had a 
quick eye for comical situations. I once came across him, 
during an all-night session of a Zionist Congress, contem- 
plating with fascination a fat delegate who had jammed 
himself into an armchair in the lobby and had fallen 
asleep. Bialik pointed at him and murmured in my ear: "A 
chairful of Jew." 

There was no clue in his personal bearing to the misery 
and destitution of his childhood and boyhood. Weizmann 
and Levin had been born into what by Shtetl standards 
were well-to-do homes. They had never known real priva- 
tion of any kind, and they had been immersed in warm and 
happy families. Bialik was born into grinding poverty, and 
at the age of seven he had been sent away to live with a 
stern, pious, and scholarly grandfather so that his mother 
would have one mouth less to feed. His earliest memories 
were of a wretched inn kept by his sensitive father for 
peasants whose rude and boisterous ways he could not 
endure. The inn failed and the family moved to the out- 
skirts of Zhitomir, where his father tried his hand at vari- 
ous occupations, never with success, so that one by one 
the household possessions were sold, down to the family 
candlesticks — that last symbol of Jewish respectability and 
piety — and the mother had to make the Sabbath eve bene- 
diction over candles stuck into clay. Then the father died, 
and the mother peddled fruit and vegetables from door to 
door to feed herself and her seven children. In the nights 
she mended their garments and one night a week she baked 
bread for them; and as she kneaded the dough and im- 
plored God to help her feed her little ones, she wept into 



the dough, so that as Bialik tells, her children literally 
swallowed her tears. 

A cycle of Bialik's poems is dedicated to these oppres- 
sive memories. In one he asks: 

Would you know 
From whom I have my heritage of song? 
A singer settled in my father's house, 
A humble, lonely soul who hid in corners, 
And comforted his frailty in the shadows. 
He had one song, and only one, to sing. 
The same words always, set to the same tune. 
And when my heart was frozen into silence, 
My tongue hard-cleaving to my throbbing palate, 
My stomach empty, and my cry choked back 
By my unyielding throat, his song would wake me. 
He was the cricket, minstrel of poverty. 

If you knew nothing of the man's history, you would 
declare from this and the other poems in the cycle that 
childhood misery had set its stamp on him — were it not 
for another cycle in which he celebrates the life of the 
Jewish village with such charm and gaiety that you are 
ready to declare: "No, this is the experience, the other is 
painful imagination and empathy." In the end, unable to 
reconcile the authenticity of the two extremes, you give up 
the quest for "internal evidence." Equally irresoluble is 
the contradiction in his attitude toward the disciplines 
and sacrifices of the classical Talmudic education: in one 
place a lyrical glorification of the Jewish will to learning 
and its meaning for the preservation of the people, in an- 
other a cry of lamentation for the cruelty and waste of it. 
He sounds these opposite notes in his poem, Ha-Matmid, in 
which he describes the life of the dedicated young Talmud 
student, who is fastened to his books as the Cossack is fast- 
ened to his horse in wartime. 



But the battle is one of self-conquest, and it is not fought 
out under the open sky, but in a dim, candle-lit corner of 
a musty Yeshivah. Of the day's four quarters, three are 
given to combat, one to the body's needs — brief sleep and 
meager rations. Outside, the fields are magic with summer 
green or winter white; the boy's eyes are fixed on the 
ancient text. A seductive wind steals in through the 
window; he does not even feel it lifting his earlocks. 

An eremite whose corner is his cave! 

With pallid face tight-drawn and puckered brows 

He keeps his incommunicable watch. 

And in the Talmud under him his soul 

Is lost and locked, forever and forever . . . 

Granite is yielding clay compared with him, 

A Jewish boy unto the Torah vowed. 

There are other students in the Academy, each devoted 
in his degree, but he is the Matmid, the fanatic of learn- 
ing. Hunger and thirst and aching eyes have no power 
over him. If his mind wanders a moment from the text, it 
is to glance at the glory of great scholars shining across the 
centuries of the Jewish past, to remember how 

in the chastity of poverty 
The people and its sons have kept the faith . . . 

He tastes the prize 
He pays for with the gold of youthful days. 

Is the victory worth the sacrifice? Bialik, himself once a 
Matmid in the Yeshiva of Zhitomir, stares back into the 
past and his mind becomes clouded. 

I in my boyhood was a listener 
Among those voices, and my youth was passed 
With those wan sufferers whose wrinkled brows 
And staring eyes implore the world's compassion. 



And every wrinkle spoke to me in silence 
Of passions stifled and of fires extinguished . . . 
My fate denied I should be lost with you. 
Unhappy ones! and to the hearth you knew 
Long, long ago I said my last farewell . . . 
The times are changed; far from your boundaries 
In alien places have I raised my altar . . . 
All, all of you do I remember still — 
The hungry childhood and the bitter manhood, 
And my heart weeps for my unhappy people . . . 
How burned, how blasted must our portion be 
If seed like this must wither in its soil. 

Once again, the ambivalence of the Jew, here expressing 
itself in acceptance and denial of his traditional values. It 
is as though the poet were involved in a love which he 
recognizes as the source of his strength but knows to be 
destructive. Sometimes the love is on the intellectual level, 
as in this poem, sometimes on the homely level, as in his 
bewitching Songs of the People. 

In all these qualities, and by virtue of his mastery of 
language, Bialik surpasses every contemporary in verse or 
prose, but they do not exhaust his greatness and com- 
plexity. One aspect of him introduces a second duality. This 
product of the Shtetl detaches himself completely from his 
time and place in a great Miltonic poem. The Dead of the 
Wilderness. The subject is drawn from a Midrashic legend 
which tells that the Jews who left Egypt with Moses and 
were condemned to perish in the desert rose in rebellion 
and tried to storm their way into the Promised Land 
against the divine decree. They were thrown back and cast 
into a deep slumber from which they awaken periodically 
and renew the attempt, again to be cast into slumber. Be- 
tween the spasms of fury their gigantic bodies lie in dis- 



order on the burning sands, the black rocks surrounding 
them, the hot sun beating down on their matted and 
monstrous faces, on the weapons paralyzed in their 
clenched fists, on their silent tents. It is a universal poem 
of man's refusal to accept the decree of fate, and the splen- 
dor of the imagery matches the grandeur of the theme. 

The scenic descriptions are overwhelmingly powerful. 
Those who have read The Dead of the Wilderness and 
have looked on the desolation of the Sinai Peninsula are 
filled with wonder at the evocative imagination of a 
ghetto Jew who had hardly strayed outside the limits of 
his world; he has caught the primal terror of the desert 
as if he had been its prisoner for many years, as if his 
soul had been recast by it. I once asked Bialik how these 
images had come to him. He said: "Outside my father's 
inn there was a little hill. I used to lie on it face down, 
thinking myself into the desert." 

Bialik spurred me to the learning of Hebrew as Levin 
did to the learning of Yiddish; nevertheless, Bialik was a 
greater master of Yiddish than Levin. He could do in 
poetry what Sholom Aleichem did in prose — portray the 
lovableness of the ordinary human being; but he also had 
powers beyond the reach of Sholom Aleichem — a nobility 
of style which at one time I thought alien to the spirit of 
this folk language. There is much talk today of the decline 
and approaching death of Yiddish; it is, I think exagger- 
ated; but whenever I hear it I think with a pang of the 
lovelinesses that must be locked away forever in forgotten 



6 Of an Old Tragedy t 

I fl7Z6? « Bitter Farce j 


JL r IS WONDERFUL to scc how, when a special life-pattern 
is forming, the necessary accidents come along to fill it out. 
To be sure, something is given, an initial pattern issuing 
from parents and early environment; after that, life is full 
of accidental events and encounters, and a man takes his 
pick of them, letting this one affect him more, that one 
less, a third not at all. But there are indispensable acci- 
dents so improbable, and so contingent on preceding 
accidents, that we stand puzzled as before a conspiracy. 

The two months I spent in the late summer of 1919 as 
secretary and interpreter for the Morgenthau Pogrom In- 
vestigation Commission to Poland had a permanent effect 
on my already developed Jewish interests. But how did I 
happen to get a place on that Commission? Did I hear of 
its formation and put in an application? Not at all. I knew 
nothing about the Commission till I was offered the job. 
It so happened that the commanding officer of my Gil 
unit had elected to defer his demobilization and stay on 
in Paris and, being on hand at the center of things, was 
asked if he would like to go along with former Ambassador 
Morgenthau to Poland; he answered he would like it very 
much, whereupon he was empowered to find himself two 


secretaries; he selected me and the friend with whom I 
later operated the stenography office in Paris. 

It might be assumed at this point that I was chosen be- 
cause I knew Yiddish, the language of Polish Jewry, which 
would not have been an accident. But my knowledge of 
Yiddish had nothing to do with it; I wasn't even asked 
about it. Like my friend, a non-Jew, I was taken along on 
general grounds, and when my knowledge of Yiddish was 
discovered I became more an interpreter than a secretary. 

But how did I happen to be in Gil to begin with? When 
the reader last heard about my military career I was in the 
infantry; the fact is that I went across with the infantry, 
and I was already in the advanced zone, expecting to be at 
the front in a matter of days, when our company was 
drawn up and all those who could speak French were 
ordered to fall out. Some twenty or thirty responded, a 
circumstance which would be surprising in a New York 
outfit but was not at all surprising in the outfit to which 
I now belonged. For after my training with the 307th 
Infantry in Camp Upton I was transferred to Camp Green, 
near Charlotte, North Carolina, and assigned, for no par- 
ticular reason, to the 103rd, originally the First New 
Hampshire Infantry, which had had a contingent of men 
who spoke Canadian French; and when Gil headquarters 
in Paris was recruiting its personnel it sent round to the 
Louisiana and Northern New England regiments for can- 
didates. Of the twenty or thirty men in my company who 
were examined half a dozen or so were chosen, I among 
them. We were sent up to Paris, fitted out in civilian 
clothes, and distributed to various points in France. 

That was how I got into the Bordeaux unit of Gil, and 
what we did there for nearly a year by way of counter- 
espionage I never found out. We lived in private lodgings, 
and went every weekday to an office on the rue Esprit des 



Lois. Evenings and Sundays I used to take Hebrew lessons 
from a Palestinian medical student at the local university. 
(I continued these later in Berlin and Vienna, when I was 
attached to the Reparations Commission, In Vienna I had 
an office in the huge Kriegsministerium, and there I did 
my first translations of Bialik, under the noses of Austrian 
generals in effigy.) But how was it that my French was good 
enough to get me into Gil? Well, it was the only subject I 
did well at as a student. That, in turn, was undoubtedly 
due to the fact that as a child I had spent a year in Paris. 
My childhood year in Paris, too, was an accident. When 
we left Rumania in 1900, our destination was, at my 
mother's inflexible insistence, England, the country with- 
out military conscription, and we stayed on in Paris as long 
as we did only because my father had two half-brothers 
there. Also, I mightn't have gone to Paris in 1914 if I 
hadn't already felt at home in the language. 

Such, in brief, was the series of accidents which along a 
meandering route of twenty years dovetailed to land me on 
the Polish Pogrom Investigation Commission and fill out 
an important area in my life-pattern, 

I was thrilled by the prospect of a sojourn among the 
Jews of Eastern Europe, and, let me add, elated by the 
privilege of working on an official body headed by a man 
of ambassadorial rank, with whom I would surely have 
occasional contacts, in however obscure a capacity. An 
ambassador was a romantic and awesome figure to me, far 
more so than a prime minister or a secretary of state. These 
were politicians, immensely able perhaps, but politicians 
still, men of the hustings, exploiters of mob psychology. An 
ambassador was of a different breed; he was appointed for 
his knowledge of men and history, for his savoir-faire, his 
subtlety and charm. Dishonest and devious he might be, 
but these qualities would be marked by distinction, adroit- 
ness, and wit, I was twenty-four years old, 



My knowledge of Yiddish brought me into more fre- 
quent contact with Ambassador Morgenthau than I had 
dared to anticipate. Morgenthau spoke German, but not 
Yiddish, and in spite of a widespread belief to the con- 
trary, there is a great gap between the two languages. The 
vocabulary of Yiddish is, indeed, nine tenths of German 
origin, but the spirit and the idioms of Yiddish are its own, 
and what with its admixture of Hebrew words and its pro- 
nunciation, which varies from section to section of East 
European Jewry, it can be quite unintelligible, except for 
the most primitive exchanges, to one who knows only 
German. Similarly, formal German can be unintelligible 
to one who knows only Yiddish. Morgenthau would often 
call me in when he found the going hard with some par- 
ticular delegation; he would make part of his address in 
English, and I would interpret. I got to dislike these 
occasions intensely because of the curious things Morgen- 
thau said. I did not mind interpreting for General Jadwin 
or Mr. Homer Johnson, the other top members of the 
Commission; they did not think it part of their duty to 
make speeches. 

The question before the Commission was not whether 
violent outbreaks against the Jews had taken place in 
newly liberated Poland; there was no denying that they 
had; hundreds of Jews had been killed, thousands 
wounded; thousands of Jewish homes had been pillaged 
and destroyed. Whatever the official statement, the real 
terms of reference of the investigation had, at least for me, 
a wider purpose. Were the "outbreaks" a symptom of a 
deep-rooted national condition, or had they been, as the 
Polish government loudly protested — while minimizing 
their extent — random mob explosions in a lawless time of 
transition? Were they merely part of that "turbulent 
interim period" which I had accepted as the inevitable 
but brief prelude to the universal reign of law? And if 



anti-Semitism was indeed an organic element in Polish 
life, what was the attitude of the Polish ruling classes? 
Were they fighting it, or were they exploiting it? 

From beginning to end the investigations were bitterly 
discouraging; anti-Semitism revealed itself immediately 
as a national disease, and Polish officialdom was as widely 
infected as Russian officialdom had been before it. Yet 
from beginning to end Morgenthau kept talking to Jewish 
delegations as if he had undertaken to compose an un- 
fortunate and essentially senseless quarrel in which there 
was as much to be said on one side as on the other: for the 
solution of the problem nothing more was needed than a 
bit of horse sense and some mutual concessions. 

In soothing, fatherly speeches he counseled Polish Jewry 
to take an example from America, where Jews and gentiles 
got along in perfect harmony because the Jews didn't insist 
on too much Jewishness. He earnestly admonished Polish 
Jewry to forget the unhappy past — that was the only way 
to prevent it from recurring. "All citizens of Poland," he 
repeated again and again — and he incorporated the advice 
in his report — "should realize that they must live together" 
— as if the pogroms had been two-sided. There had been, 
he conceded, unfortunate incidents, but the future was 
bright. He was particularly fond of a metaphor which be- 
came a nightmare to me because I had to translate it so 
frequently. "Look at the doughnut, not at the hole." Every 
time I had to mention the beigel — the nearest Jewish 
equivalent to a doughnut — and the loch, the hole, I stam- 
mered and squirmed and blushed. The word loch unfortu- 
nately had a coarse connotation in that context; I could not 
avoid it because it is also the German word, and Morgen- 
thau, in love with the metaphor, insisted on a literal 
translation. I was too timid to explain the source of my 



That Morgenthau meant what he was saying was un- 
thinkable to me; it was too driveling. As the weeks passed 
and the work — and the speeches — went on in various 
cities, I wavered for a time between two theories. Accord- 
ing to the first, Morgenthau was biding his time; he would, 
while temporarily offending and perplexing the Jews, 
avoid antagonizing the Polish authorities, whose co-oper- 
ation he needed, until all the facts were in; then he would 
speak out. That was diplomacy in high gear, crafty and 
patient, uncomfortable to watch, but understandable. 
According to the second theory, also understandable but 
appalling rather than uncomfortable, the Ambassador was 
"doing a job" for the American and Polish governments. 
He was, on instruction, playing the situation down for the 
sake of friendly relations between America and Poland, 
and his report would be of a piece with his speeches. What 
the ultimate effect would be on the position of the Jews 
of Poland was secondary; perhaps it did not even come into 
the picture; the real purpose of the Commission was to 
gloss things over and hope for the best, while Morgen- 
thau's overriding purpose was to win for himself the 
reputation of a gifted manipulator on the international 
scene, a Jewish Metternich, a new Disraeli. 

If the second theory was right, the man was, I thought, a 
villain. On that theory, he would of course still have to 
testify to certain facts, those which stared the personnel of 
the Commission in the face; he would, however, conceal 
others, less concrete but of wider bearing, without which 
the reported facts would lack the proper framework and 
lose most of their significance. He would obscure the 
fundamental issue by hints and double talk, so that public 
opinion would be more confused than ever. 

In the event, it turned out that both of my theories as 
to the character of the man were wrong, but I held on to 



the second for a long time. I discarded the first before the 
work of the Commission was completed. "This is a wicked 
man," I said to myself. "He is going to sell the Jews out." 
I was so firmly convinced of Morgenthau's wickedness — 
though I ought to mention that he treated me with great 
kindness — that I did not want to see the report when it 
was made public by the American State Department in 
October 1919. It was when I returned to America in 1921 
that it was thrust on my attention; and if I ultimately 
changed my views as to Mr. Morgenthau's character, my 
anticipations as to the character of the report were com- 
pletely confirmed. 

I may be asked why I am hashing up these old and half- 
forgotten matters. They are, it is true, part of my personal 
record; they wove themselves into my life. But is that 
reason enough to revert to them when it were best that 
they should be forgotten altogether? I shall try to show, 
however, that even with all that has happened since, with 
all those horrors which have made the Polish pogroms of 
1918-1919 look trivial, the Morgenthau Commission and 
its report have an enduring interest for us. 

Now, with regard to the bare facts of the pogroms as 
such, the Morgenthau report is honest enough. But I re- 
member that when I first read it I was immediately struck 
by a curious sentence in the introductory remarks. "The 
use of the word 'pogrom' has purposely been avoided, as 
the word is applied to everything from petty outrages to 
premeditated and carefully organized massacres." "Ex- 
cesses" is the word which is regularly substituted for 
"pogrom." As far as I knew, and as far as the dictionaries 
know, "excesses" does not have a more restricted connota- 
tion than "pogrom." But — and the dictionaries agree — 
with or without bloodshed a pogrom is an act of riot and 
pillage and sometimes of murder instigated or committed 



by government officials. The word "pogrom," I at once 
suspected, was really avoided lest the report seem to reflect 
on Polish officialdom and the Polish government. The 
brutal truth turned out to be that Polish officialdom and 
the Polish government were, by acts of commission and 
omission, deeply implicated, when not as instigators, then 
as connivers. The report itself awkwardly and grudgingly 
reveals as much; and certain facts still verifiable today are 
even more revealing in this respect. We shall see that 
Morgenthau's foray into semantics was motivated by some- 
thing other than literary fastidiousness. 

Eight pogroms are listed in the report. The first, at 
Kielce, occurred on November ii (Armistice Day). Four 
Jews were killed and many wounded. "A number of civil- 
ians have been indicted for participation in this excess," 
says the report, issued nearly a year later, "but have not as 
yet been brought to trial." (My italics here and in the fol- 
lowing quotations. M.S.) 

The second pogrom took place at Lemberg (now Lvov) 
and was prolonged for three days, November 21-23. 

Sixty-four Jews were killed and a large amount of 
property destroyed. Thirty-eight houses were set on 
fire . . . The synagogue was also burned and a large 
number of the sacred scrolls were destroyed. The re- 
pression of the disorders was rendered more difficult 
by the prevailing lack of discipline among the junior 
officers to apply stern punitive measures. On Decem- 
ber 24, 1918, the Polish Government, through the 
Ministry of Justice, began a strict investigation . . . 
164 persons, ten of them Jews, have been tried for 
complicity in the November disorders . . . Forty-four 
persons are under sentences ranging from ten days to 
eighteen months. Aside from the civil courts the local 



court-martial has sentenced military persons to con- 
finement for as long as three years for lawlessness dur- 
ing the period in question. 

The third pogrom took place in Pinsk on the afternoon 
of April 5, 1919. In this particularly beastly incident one 
may reasonably challenge the use of the word "pogrom," 
since there was neither riot nor civic disorder attached to 

Some seventy-five Jews of both sexes, with the offi- 
cial permission of the town commander, gathered in 
the assembly hall at the People's House ... to discuss 
the distribution of relief sent by the American Joint 
Distribution Committee. As the meeting was about 
to adjourn it was interrupted by a band of soldiers, 
who arrested and searched the whole assembly, and 
after robbing the prisoners marched them at a rapid 
pace to gendarmerie headquarters. Thence the pris- 
oners were conducted to the market-place and lined 
up against the wall of the cathedral. With no lights 
except the lamp of a military automobile, the six 
women in the crowd and about twenty-five men were 
separated from the mass, and the remainder, thirty- 
five in number, were shot with scant deliberation and 
no trial whatsoever. Early the next morning three 
victims were shot in cold blood as soon as life revealed 
itself in them . . . The women and the other re- 
prieved prisoners were confined in the city jail until 
the following Thursday. The women were stripped 
and beaten by the prison guards so severely that sev- 
eral of them were bedridden for weeks, and the men 
were subjected to similar maltreatment. 

It has been asserted officially by the Polish authori- 
ties that there was reason to suspect this assemblage of 



Bolshevist allegiance. We are convinced that no argu- 
ments of a Bolshevist nature were mentioned in the 
meeting in question . . . We are convinced that Major 
Luszynski, the crown commander, showed repre- 
hensible and frivolous readiness to place credence in 
such untested assertions. . . . 

The statement made officially by General Litowsky 
that the Jewish population on April 5 attacked the 
Polish troops, are regarded as devoid of founda- 
tion . . . 

Though there have been official investigations of 
this case none of the offenders answerable for this 
summary execution has been punished or even tried, 
nor has the Diet Commission published its findings. 

The fourth pogrom took place in Lida on April 17, 
1919. The city having been taken that day from the Bol- 

the soldiers proceeded to enter and rob the houses of 
the Jews. During the period of the pillage thirty-nine 
Jews were killed. A large number of Jews, including 
the local rabbi, were arbitrarily arrested on the same 
day by the Polish authorities and kept for twenty-four 
hours without food amid revolting conditions. Jews 
were also impressed for forced labor without respect 
for age or infirmity. It does not appear that anyone 
has been punished for these excesses . . . 

The fifth pogrom took place in Vilna. 

On April 19 Polish detachments entered the city 
of Vilna. The city was definitely taken by the Poles 
after three days of fighting, during which time they 
lost thirty-three men. During the same period sixty- 
five Jews lost their lives. From the evidence submitted, 



it appears that none of these people, among whom 
were four women and eight men over fifty years of age, 
had served with the Bolsheviki. Eight Jews were 
marched three kilometres to the outskirts of the city 
of Vilna and deliberately shot without the semblance 
of a trial or investigation. No list has been furnished 
the Mission of any Polish civilians killed during the 
occupation . . . Over two thousand Jewish houses and 
stores were entered by Polish soldiers and civilians 
during these three days and the inhabitants robbed 
and beaten. Many of the poorest families were robbed 
of their shoes and blankets. Hundreds of Jews were 
arrested and deported from the city. Some of them 
were herded into box cars and kept without food or 
water for four days. Two of these prisoners have since 
died from the treatment they received. Included in 
the list were some of the most prominent Jews of 
Vilna, such as the prominent writers Jaffe and Niger. 
Up to August ^rd, igig, when the Mission was in 
Vilna, none of the soldiers or civilians responsible for 
these excesses had been punished. 

The sixth pogrom took place in Kolbussowa. 

For a few days before May 7, 1919, the Jews of 
Kolbussowa feared that excesses might take place, as 
there had been riots in the neighboring towns of 
Rsoszow and Glasgow. These riots had been the result 
of political agitation in this district, and excitement 
caused by a case of alleged ritual murder in which the 
Jewish defendant had been acquitted. On May 5 a 
company of soldiers was ordered to Kolbussowa to 
prevent the threatened trouble. Early in the morning 
of May 7 a great number of peasants, among whom 
were many former soldiers of the Austrian army, 



entered the town. The rioters disarmed the soldiers 
and three peasants had been killed. They then pro- 
ceeded to rob the Jewish stores and to beat any Jews 
who fell into their hands. Eight Jews were killed 
during this excess. Order was restored when a new 
detachment of soldiers arrived late in the afternoon. 
One of the rioters has since been tried and executed 
by the Polish Government. 

The seventh pogrom took place in Czestochowa. 

On May 27, 1919, at Czestochowa a shot fired by 
an unknown person slightly wounded a Polish sol- 
dier. A rumor spread that the shot had been fired by 
Jews [sic! M.S.] and riots broke out in the city, in 
which Polish soldiers and civilians took part. During 
these riots five Jews, including a doctor who was 
hurrying to aid one of the injured, were beaten to 
death and a large number wounded. French officers 
who were stationed at Czestochowa took an active part 
in preventing further murders. 

No mention is made in this section of trial or punish- 
ment of the rioters. 

The eighth and last pogrom listed in the report (there 
were others, but they were minor, and "their detailed 
description has not been considered necessary, inasmuch 
as they present no characteristics not already observed in 
the principle excesses") took place under peculiar circum- 

On August 8, 1919, the Polish troops took the city 
of Minsk from the Bolsheviki. The Polish troops 
entered the city at about ten o'clock, and by twelve 
o'clock they had absolute control. Notwithstanding 
the presence in Minsk of General Jadwin and other 



members o£ this Mission, and the orders of the Polish 
General forbidding violence against civilians, thirty- 
one Jews were killed by the soldiers . . . During the 
afternoon and in the evening the Polish soldiers, aided 
by civilians, plundered 377 shops, all of which be- 
longed to Jews . . . No effective attempt was made to 
prevent these robberies until the next day, when ade- 
quate officers' patrols were sent out and order estab- 
lished. The Polish Government has stated that jour 
Polish soldiers were killed while attempting to pre- 
vent robberies. It has also been stated to the Mission 
that some of the rioters have been executed. 

No attempt was made by the Commission to verify these 
statements of the Polish government. 

The Polish government's action on the Minsk pogrom 
has an interest of its own. The Yiddish papers were per- 
mitted to print the story, which was in complete agreement 
with the report brought back to the Morgenthau Commis- 
sion by General Jadwin and the other eyewitness members 
of the Commission. The Official Polish Telegraph Agency, 
government-controlled, printed a counterreport stating 
that only seven Jews had been killed, and these either 
accidentally or deservedly. Side by side with this Polish 
version appeared, naturally, the usual editorial comment 
branding the Jewish reports as wild and slanted exagger- 
ations the purpose of which was to traduce Poland in the 
eyes of the world. The government could of course have 
obtained General Jadwin's report, which also contained 
the statement that not a single case of Jews shooting on 
Polish troops had been observed. Perhaps the Polish gov- 
ernment did obtain that report, but in printing its own 
report as a counterblast to the report in the Yiddish news- 
papers, it added, as clinching evidence of its own truthful- 



ness and of the mendacity and perfidy of the Jews: 
"General Jadwin was an eyewitness of the taking of the 
town." It is scarcely necessary to add that when the Yiddish 
press published General Jadwin's report, corroborating its 
own, the government and the Polish press ignored it. 

In quoting from the Morgenthau report I have italicized 
those points which bear on the punishment of the pogrom- 
ists and the official concealment of the facts. 

In only two instances was there so much as a claim on 
the part of the Polish government that it had acted with 
anything like the appropriate severity; and the lenity with 
which it actually proceeded against offenders in the first 
five pogroms was mirrored in the connivance of local 
authorities and much of the military. The report makes 
some comment in this connection: 

It is [therefore] agreed that a more aggressive puni- 
tive policy and a more general publicity of judicial 
and military prosecutions would have minimized sub- 
sequent riots by discouraging the belief among the 
soldiery that robbery and violence could be com- 
mitted with impunity. 

To anyone who reads the report with attention, this 
comment is ludicrous in its feebleness. But when addi- 
tional facts not mentioned in the report are taken into 
consideration, the word that suggests itself is not "ludi- 
crous" but "cynical." The report states correctly that the 
Diet Commission set up to investigate the massacre at 
Pinsk on April 5, 1919, had not published its findings by 
August 3; it does not state that the Jewish newspapers 
which tried to tell the story of what happened in Pinsk 
were confiscated by the government. With a kind of senile 
gravity the report suggests the advisability of "a more gen- 
eral publicity" when in fact an immense conspiracy of 



silence and deception accompanied the pogroms. The Pol- 
ish public, including the intelligentsia, was at one with 
the government in the conspiracy. Shortly after the pogrom, 
the poet Leib Jaffe, mentioned in the Vilna section of the 
report, wrote in his newspaper. Die Yiddishe Zeitung, an 
editorial under the caption "Days of Loneliness." 

What was Polish society doing, what was Polish 
society saying when the Jewry of Vilna was agonizing 
in its blood? Where was the Polish intelligentsia? Did 
the bleeding, humiliated Jews of Vilna hear a single 
voice of sympathy and protest from the side of the 
Poles? Some individual Poles did, it is true, come to 
the defense of certain individual Jews. There were 
cases, too, of Polish priests defending, at the risk of 
their lives, the Jews of little villages round Vilna. But 
where was the Polish social body as such? Where was 
an appeal to be seen, or a newspaper standing up 
against these events? . . . Perhaps the hardest thing 
to bear these days has been the loneliness, the aban- 
doned condition in which we found ourselves. 

I met Leib Jaffe in Vilna during the sessions of the Com- 
mission, before which he appeared as a witness. He had 
seen his wife lashed by a Polish soldier, his friend Weiter 
killed, and Welter's friend, Madame Sherman, wounded. 
Together with Samuel Niger, the distinguished literary 
critic, and others, he had had to run a long gauntlet be- 
tween two lines of hooligans wielding belts and clubs — a 
favorite game with Polish anti-Semites. Our meeting in 
Vilna was official; I got to know him better, years later, in 
Palestine — a gentle, smiling man, a gifted poet, and a lover 
of humanity. He was killed, in the land to which he had 
gone to find a happier life, when the Jewish Agency build- 
ing in Jerusalem was blown up by Arabs. He was a man 



incapable of hate or resentment. In another editorial, also 
published soon after the Vilna pogrom, he wrote: 

One thing must be said these days. The soul of our 
people is filled with indignation and sorrow, but in it 
there is no feeling of enmity and revenge. Even at a 
time like this we can rise to historic heights. We 
know, we are certain, that the heavy, asphyxiating 
atmosphere in which we are living will become fresher 
and freer . . . 

Alas for his hopes! They belonged to a time when mil- 
lions of the oppressed were caught up in the dream of a 
better world order born of the war to end war. When he 
wrote those editorials Leib Jaffe believed — so he told me 
in Jerusalem — that through the Morgenthau report the 
world would learn the truth about Poland's attitude toward 
its Jewish citizens, and world pressure would bring 
about a radical change in Poland. He lost this belief when 
the report was issued. 

But I have not yet touched on the most disheartening 
and offensive elements in the Morgenthau report. What I 
have quoted so far is enough, I suggest, to indicate that 
Morgenthau ought to have known from his own investi- 
gations how deeply rooted anti-Semitism was in the Polish 
masses. But there is more. 

Whereas it has been easy to determine the excesses 
which took place and to fix the approximate number 
of deaths, it was more difficult to establish the extent 
of anti-Jewish discrimination. The discrimination 
finds its most conspicuous manifestation in the form 
of the economic boycott. The National Democratic 
Party has continuously agitated the economic stran- 
gling of the Jews . . . Landowners are warned not to 



sell their property to Jews, and in some cases where 
such sales have been made the names of the offenders 
have been posted within black-bordered notices, stat- 
ing that such vendors are "dead to Poland." Even at 
the present time this campaign is being waged by most 
of the non-Jewish press, which constantly advocates 
that the economic boycott be used as a means of rid- 
ding Poland of its Jews. 

And again: 

Besides these excesses there have been reported to 
the Mission numerous cases of other forms of persecu- 
tion. Thus in almost every one of the cities and towns 
of Poland, Jews have been stopped by the soldiers and 
have had their beards either torn out or cut off. As 
the Orthodox Jews feels that the shaving of their 
beards is contrary to their religious belief, this form 
of persecution has a particular significance for them. 

A strange sentence, this: I cannot help wondering 
whether a non-Orthodox Jew who wore a beard — say like 
Theodore Herzl, or Chaim Weizmann, or even Morgen- 
thau himself — ^would "feel" less while having it torn out. 
But the beard was only one of many Jewish characteristics. 
The Jews of Poland had a life of their own, developed in 
the course of ten centuries. They formed, with their three 
millions, fourteen per cent of the population. Their right 
to their traditional way of life had been recognized at the 
Versailles Peace Conference, had been contractually con- 
firmed by Poland's representatives. The report notes: 

A new Polish constitution is now in the making. 
The general scope of this national instrument has 
already been indicated by the special treaty with the 
Allied and Associated Powers in which Poland has 
affirmed its fidelity to the principles of liberty and 



justice and the rights of minorities, and we are certain 
that Poland will be faithful to its pledge which is so 
conspicuously in harmony with the nation's best 

But what grounds did Morgenthau have for such cer- 
tainty, and what encouragement to be faithful to the prin- 
ciples of liberty and justice can the Poles have found in the 
following passage? 

In considering the causes for the anti-Semitic feel- 
ing which has brought about the manifestations 
described above, it must be remembered that since the 
partition of 1 795 the Poles have striven to be reunited 
as a nation and to regain their freedom. This con- 
tinual eflfort to keep alive their national aspirations 
has caused them to look with hatred upon anything 
which might interfere with their aims. This has led 
to a conflict with the national declarations of some of 
the Jewish organizations which desire to establish cul- 
tural autonomy ... In addition, the position taken 
by the Jews in favor of Article 93 of the Treaty of 
Versailles, guaranteeing protection to racial, linguistic 
and religious minorities in Poland, has created a 
further resentment against them. Moreover, Polish 
national feeling is irritated by what is regarded as the 
"alien" character of the great mass of the Jewish popu- 
lation. This is constantly brought home to the Poles 
by the fact that the majority of the Jews affect a dis- 
tinctive dress, observe the Sabbath on Saturday, con- 
duct business on Sunday, have separate dietary laws, 
wear long beards, and speak a language of their 
own . . . 

That Article 93 was forced on the Poles by the Allies 
who had given them their freedom is true; that the Poles 
would have been less anti-Semitic if the Jews had not 



claimed minority rights is unprovable and most probably 
false. When has anti-Semitism lacked a pretext? In any 
case, the vast majority of the Jews did claim those minority 
rights, and the reference to the "national declarations of 
some of the Jewish organizations" is a confused attempt 
to put the blame on a minority within the Jewish com- 
munity. But with or without Article 93, with or without 
"national declarations," the majority of Jews would have 
gone on living at least for some time as they had lived for 
centuries: some of them affecting a distinctive dress, wear- 
ing beards, observing the Sabbath and the laws of kashrut, 
and studying the sacred books, still more of them in one 
degree or another cultivating a tradition handed down by 
many generations; in all of which they would have con- 
tinued to irritate Polish national feeling. While the report 
recommends "a more aggressive punitive policy" toward 
pogromists, it nowhere suggests that something ought to be 
done about the irascibility of Polish nationalist feeling, 
that is, about Polish chauvinism. It implies, instead, that 
it was natural for the Poles to have regarded the Jewish 
minority as a hateful obstacle to Polish national liberation; 
and of some deeper significance in the phenomenon of 
anti-Semitism there is of course no hint. 

I return to my observations on Morgenthau's substitu- 
tion of "excesses" for "pogrom." The reader may have 
thought them finicky and malicious; perhaps the following 
will give him a better impression. In 1922 Morgenthau 
wrote an article for the April issue of the The World's 
Work. He tells there of his meetings as head of the Mission 
with Polish and other notables, among them Pilsudski, the 
first Polish chief of state; he also gives us some interesting 
insights into the frame of mind in which he approached 
and performed his assignment. I confine myself to a single 
brief quotation: 



"Pogrom?" Pilsudski had thundered when I first 
called on him , . . "There have been no pogroms in 
Poland! Nothing but unavoidable accidents." 

I asked the difference. 

"A pogrom," he explained, "is a massacre by the 
Government, or not prevented by it when prevention 
is possible." 

It was here, then, that Morgenthau learned to avoid the 
word in his report, and to think up an ingenious reason 
for the avoidance. I answered the article bitterly in The 
New Palestine and exposed what I called "The Treachery 
of Henry Morgenthau." I did not meet him again and of 
course never heard from him. 


I shall now tell how I came to revise my opinion of 
Morgenthau and to clear him in my mind of the charges of 
villainy and treachery. Many years had passed and I had 
stopped thinking about the man. It was 1947 and I was in 
Palestine, working with Weizmann on his memoirs. In 
Trial and Error there is a short and diverting chapter, 
"Opera Bouffe Intermezzo," which tells how President 
Wilson sent Morgenthau to Europe in the summer of 1917 
to try to persuade Turkey, the ally of Germany, to make 
a separate peace, and how Weizmann was sent, unofficially, 
by the British Foreign Office to intercept him and "talk 
him out of his mission." A separate peace with Turkey at 
that stage of the First World War would have meant a 
pledge to preserve "as is" the rickety, oppressive, and 
utterly corrupt Turkish Empire, leaving the Armenian, 
Arab, and other peoples under the misrule they had en- 
dured for centuries. This the British government would 



not accept, for reasons of their own; the subject peoples 
had better reasons for opposing such a plan. Weizmann 

The British Foreign Office did not attach much 
importance to the manoeuvre. I did — at first . . . The 
French, it soon transpired, were taking the American 
mission seriously. After all, here was an ex-Ambassa- 
dor who had come across the ocean with the blessings 
of the [American] President, and accompanied by a 
whole suite [which included, among others, Professor 
Felix Frankfurter]. Besides, the wish may have been 
father to the thought: the French were prepared to 
consider a separate peace with Turkey on the basis of 
the inviolability of the Turkish Empire. I, for my 
part, soon came to the conclusion that the whole 
business was a canard. 

It needed only a face to face encounter with Morgen- 
thau, which took place in Gibraltar early in July. 

It appeared, continues Weizmann: 

that Mr. Morgenthau had had an idea. He felt that 
Turkey was on the point of collapse. It had occurred 
to him that perhaps Taalat Pasha might be played off 
against Enver Bey, and a peace move considered. I put 
two simple questions to Mr. Morgenthau. First, did he 
think the time had come for the American Govern- 
ment to open up negotiations of such a nature with 
the Turkish authorities; in other words, did he think 
Turkey realized sufficiently that she was beaten, or 
likely to lose the war, and was, therefore, in a frame 
of mind to lend herself to negotiations of that nature? 
Second, assuming that the time was ripe for such over- 



tures, did Mr. Morgenthau have any clear ideas about 
the conditions under which the Turks would be pre- 
pared to detach themselves from their masters? 

Colonel Weyl [the French representative] was par- 
ticularly anxious to obtain a precise answer from Mr. 
Morgenthau. But Mr. Morgenthau was unable to 
furnish one. In fact, as the talk went on, it became 
embarrassingly clear that he had merely had a vague 
notion that he could utilize his connections in Turkey 
to some end or other; but on examining the question 
more closely he was compelled to admit that he did 
not know the position and was not justified in saying 
that the time had arrived for negotiations. In short, he 
seemed not to have given the matter sufficiently seri- 
ous consideration . . . When I asked Frankfurter, in- 
formally, what he was doing on this odd mission, he 
answered that he came along to keep an eye on things! 

It was no job at all to persuade Mr. Morgenthau to 
drop the project. He simply persuaded himself . . . We 
talked in this vacuum for two whole days. It was mid- 
summer and very hot. We had been given one of the 
casements in the Rock for our sessions, and the win- 
dows were kept open. As Mr. Morgenthau did not 
speak French, and Colonel Weyl did not speak Eng- 
lish, we had to fall back on German. And the Tom- 
mies on guard marched up and down outside, no 
doubt convinced that we were a pack of spies who had 
been lured into a trap, to be court-martialed the next 
morning and shot out of hand. I must confess that I 
did not find it easy to make an intelligible report to 
Sir Ronald Graham [of the British Foreign Office]. 

Dr. Weizmann enjoyed redictating this chapter from an 
earlier draft of his own, and I enjoyed taking it down; but 



I thought he was unfair. I had long since lost my awe of 
ambassadors and ex-ambassadors; all the same, here was a 
man who, after having done a stint as ambassador, had 
been entrusted by President Wilson with two important 
missions. I told Weizmann of my experience with Morgen- 
thau in Poland; he was a bad man, I said, a conscienceless 
and irresponsible careerist; but surely he couldn't have 
been the nincompoop depicted by Weizmann. Weizmann 
smiled and quoted a Yiddish proverb: "If you have money, 
you're good-looking and clever and a good singer as well." 
But knowing that Weizmann could be cruelly satirical, I 
still objected. Not that I minded the unfairness to Morgen- 
thau; I only wanted a more plausible picture of the man. 
I did not withdraw my objections until 1961, when Justice 
Frankfurter issued his fascinating volume of reminiscences. 
His version of the Gibraltar episode is even more diverting 
— and more devastating — than Weizmann's. 

"I suppose," he begins, "that there never was a more 
fantastic mission on which I found myself sent than the 
so-called Morgenthau mission in June and July, 1917," 
and goes on to tell how Morgenthau, having been re- 
warded for his contributions to the Wilson campaign of 
1913 by the ambassadorship to Turkey, and finding him- 
self out of a job when America declared war on the Central 
Powers, went about in Washington "bothering everybody 
with a great thought he had of detaching Turkey from 
Germany and Austria." 

The idea, thought Professor Frankfurter (as he then 
was), did not appear, on the surface, altogether hare- 
brained. "There was only the little problem of how it was 
to be implemented." 

Turkey is a far land, and Morgenthau talked glibly 
of Mustapha Kemal and about people who seemed 



awfully remote even to those in power. Finally, after 
some diplomatic negotiations, Wilson got the agree- 
ment of Lloyd George and the French Prime Min- 
ister, M. Ribot, a long-whiskered gentleman who 
didn't amount to much, to join in the American- 
Anglo-French Commission to look into and bring 
about, if possible, the detachment of Turkey from the 
Central Powers. 

I was then assistant to the Secretary of War, and 
Baker broached the subject of my going along with 
Ambassador Morgenthau. I didn't know anything 
about him except in the way in which we're all in- 
fluenced by what we hear and read. I assumed he was 
a considerable personage [I read this with relief. M.S.] 
but something in me resisted Baker's suggestion. I 
didn't want to go with Mr. Morgenthau. I finally met 
him and was puzzled by him. He wasn't my kind of 
person, in the sense that his talk was inconsequential 
and not coherent, but loose and big and rhetorical. 
You couldn't get hold of anything, but I assumed that 
was just the froth of the man. I didn't realize that the 
froth was the man. 

But Professor Frankfurter got his orders from Wilson 
and went, "the theory being that they needed an inter- 
national lawyer ... I wasn't an international lawyer, knew 
damn little about international law. I knew where Turkey 
was on the map and not much more, but as is the way with 
lawyers I began to study up the case . . . ," and by the time 
the party was on board, "I knew more about Turkey than 
Morgenthau had acquired in all his years there because my 
knowledge was critical and his was general, just hot-air 
impressions." After a few days at sea Frankfurter also knew 
much more about Morgenthau than Morgenthau did. 



I soon realized that his ego was enormous, insati- 
able . . . After one or two sessions I couldn't bear it. 
I forget how many days we were on the water — ten, 
I think — and I became inaccessible thereafter. At 
lunch he'd say: "Where were you?" "I was on the 
upper deck, waiting for you," or the lower, or what- 
ever it was. I really played the game of hide and seek 
because I soon saw that the man hadn't a brain in his 
head . . . What gave him what he had? What did he 
have? Money. He was a great dealer in New York real 
estate . . . Oh, it was such a boring thing. 

For the details of the harrowing experience the reader 
must go to Justice Frankfurter's own record. I add only 
two more paragraphs — short ones. After Morgenthau had, 
as Weizmann puts it, talked himself out of his mission, he 
went to France to report to General Pershing. "Mr. Mor- 
genthau," says Justice Frankfurter with a deep sigh, "asked 
me to go along, so I went. But the stuff was so puerile! I 
remember sitting in Pershing's room and sliding down in 
my chair with the thought that I could make myself even 
less conspicuous than my small size inevitably makes me, 
so that Pershing might not remember that I was even 

Justice Frankfurter closes the episode with: "I con- 
cluded that simply because you can make money in New 
York real estate doesn't mean that you have an understand- 
ing of the relationship of people, or nations, or know the 
history of forces that made the past and will therefore 
determine the future." 

I have absolved Mr. Morgenthau of villainy and treach- 
ery and base political motives in the affair of Polish 
pogroms. I have come to the conclusion that he just hadn't 
the foggiest notion what it was all about, his equipment 




for this mission being of the same order as his equipment 
for his peace-with-Turkey mission. Those driveling ad- 
dresses of his to the Jewish delegations — he meant them, 
in so far as they could be said to have meaning. And he 
really thought he was serving the best interests of Polish 
Jewry, as well as of Poland and America and civilization 

Morgenthau was, let it be noted, a representative figure 
— the type of Jew who believes that, on the whole, anti- 
Semitism is caused by the behavior of Jews. Not, the type 
adds hastily, that anti-Semitism is ever justifiable; the ac- 
cusations made by anti-Semites — that the Jews are a bad 
lot, that they have far more than their permissible pro- 
portion of sharpers, arsonists, white-slave traffickers, draft- 
dodgers and traitors, that Jewish bankers are a sinister 
world power — are obviously based on a ridiculous prej- 
udice. But — so runs the argument — why feed that prejudice 
by addiction to Hebrew or Yiddish, and, worst of all, a 
claim to peoplehood? 

This trivialization of a deep-rooted folkloristic malady 
in the body of Western civilization is itself a result of anti- 
Semitism. It also turns into a mockery the gigantic tragedy 
of Jewish suffering. The Jews, it would seem, have suffered 
massacre and exile not because of their will to preserve, 
however imperfectly, a meaningful life-view, but because 
of uncalled for, irritating idiosyncracies; the six million 
that were done to death in Europe are a warning against 
the folly of tactlessness. 

My mind runs over the recent history of European 
Jewry. I look back at the pogroms in Poland which broke 
out on the day the First World War ended. We did not 
know that they were a prelude to the ghastliest episode in 
the history of the Jewish people; but we did know that this 
was an evil beginning for the "new era." We — I am speak- 


ing of Jews who shared my outlook — ^were embittered not 
only by the pogroms themselves, but by the anxiety of the 
world to ignore them. In America the first six Polish 
pogroms were reported so obscurely as to make no impres- 
sion. It was only after an immense Jewish protest demon- 
stration had been staged in New York that the American 
public was roused. The force of the demonstration, wrote 
The Maccabean, the organ of the American Zionists, "can 
be gauged by this one fact: it has succeeded in breaking 
through the wall of silence which has been built round the 
Polish atrocities by the American press. That wall, of 
course, was erected in pursuance of the policy of pamper- 
ing Poland. Poland was to be set up as the barrier against 

Germany, too, was to be the barrier against Bolshevism 
less than a generation later; therefore, German "excesses" 
against the Jews had to be handled with the greatest 
delicacy. Morgenthau tells us in his World's Work article 
that Pilsudski was infuriated by the publicity which was 
finally given to the pogroms. "Excesses? The exaggeration 
of the foreign press concerning what had happened to a 
trivial number of Jews had been monstrous." Jews ought 
not to scream when they are being murdered and robbed; 
it upsets important negotiations for the preservation of 
world peace and world freedom. The word the Germans 
were to use was Greuelpropaganda — atrocity propaganda; 
and in America and England anyone who thought that 
something ought to be done about the Nuremberg laws 
was liable to be called a warmonger. Pilsudski, like Rus- 
sia's rulers before him and Germany's later, was outraged 
by foreign intervention in his country's internal affairs. 
What Poland or Russia or Germany did to her Jews was 
her business and nobody else's. I quote again from Morgen- 
thau's article in The World's Work: " 'Why not trust to 



Poland's honor?' shouted Pilsudski. 'Don't plead that the 
article's concessions [referring to Article 93 of the Ver- 
sailles Treaty signed by Poland] are few in number or 
negative in character. Let them be as small or as negative 
as you please, that article creates an authority, a power, 
to which to appeal outside the laws of this country. Every 
faction in Poland was agreed on doing justice to the Jews, 
and yet the Peace Conference, at the instance of America, 
insults us by telling us that we must do justice.' " 

Pilsudski was worried by the harm Morgenthau's report 
might do Poland. " 'These little mishaps,' he said, 'were 
all over, and now you come here to stir the whole thing 
up again and probably make a report that may still further 
hurt our credit abroad.' " Whatever harm Poland's reputa- 
tion suffered in connection with the pogroms was caused, 
not by the Morgenthau report, but by the demonstrations 
and the agitation which led to the appointment of the 
Commission. They also led to a change in the technique 
of Polish anti-Semitism. Hot pogroms were too spectacu- 
lar; the cold pogrom of boycott and economic strangu- 
lation was more effective and did not lend itself to 
dramatization. After 1919, hot pogroms were discouraged 
in Poland; the cold pogrom was conducted with mounting 
intensity until the day the country was overrun by the 
Nazis from one side and the Communists from the other. 




^ s 

$ Hieroselyma Est Perdita t 

I I 

S ® I 


OR a number of years I kept, irregularly, records of 
my dreams, setting them down the morning after their 
occurrence. I still reread them occasionally and I have 
noticed how, over the years, some of them have died to 
my memory, so that I have to take my own word for it 
that I dreamed them, while others have remained alive. I 
am unable to establish any selective principle. It is not 
Time. Some dreams dated as recently as 1951, 1954, and 
1956 might have been dreamed and recorded by a stranger 
for all their evocative effect on me now; others, going back 
to 1941, are almost as fresh as if I had just and incom- 
pletely awakened from them. Nor is the selection based 
on the degree of vividness with which I remembered the 
dream on awakening. Thus one dream, dated January 5-6, 
1954, has the footnote: "Deeply affected," but going over 
the account, I cannot connect myself with a single detail; 
while another, dated April 21-22, 1941, with the notation 
"Mildly affected," is in me from beginning to end. 

Thus it is also with individual experiences when I read 
my notes and diaries and published articles of forty years 
ago and more. In 1919 I wrote: "Of all those who suffered 
at the hands of the Poles I got to know best Madame 


Philipovka, whose husband and sixteen-year-old son were 
both murdered on the same day, their bodies being thrown 
with those of six other Jews into a common grave on the 
road to Lipuwka, a suburb of Vilna. She came to see me 
several times in the hotel in connection with her efforts 
to obtain a pass to Germany. Sometimes she came with her 
daughter, her one surviving child, and sometimes with a 
niece, and gradually she told me of her son and of the 
hopes she had had for him. Once she heard me exchange a 
few words in Hebrew with her niece, and on the next day 
she brought me typed copies of two Hebrew poems her 
son had written at the age of thirteen, and again, on the 
following visit, a crude twenty-four-page Hebrew brochure, 
hectographed, which had been got up by young comrades 
of her son in his memory, containing some of his own 
poems and fables." 

From further notes I gather that I was more deeply 
shaken by this tragedy than by any other that came before 
the Commission, and that Mme Philipovka haunted me for 
some time after her visits: "I can't get her out of my 
mind!" But it is in vain that I search my living memory 
for any trace of her. Had I been asked six months ago — 
that is, before I began to go through these old notes and 
articles — whether I had once known or even heard of a 
Mme Philipovka, I would have answered: "I don't think 
so." If I had been asked: "Didn't you have several con- 
versations with her in Vilna, and didn't you carry away 
what you called an 'unforgettable' impression?" I would 
have answered: "Certainly not." And as far as my inner 
response is concerned, the answer is the same now that the 
notes lie in front of me. On the other hand, I do remem- 
ber, down to the details of face and voice and dress, a 
young woman barely out of her teens whose husband had 
been killed and who appeared before us only once. It 



seems to me that if I were shown her photograph, taken at 
that time, I would recognize her instantly. Similarly, all 
erased from the tablets of my mind is Mme Sherman, who, 
I read in my notes, "cried before us like a child" as she 
told us how she and her friend Weiter were dragged into 
the street and shot down like dogs, he fatally; but I re- 
member clearly a baffled and outraged little man to whom 
I had to explain that he could not claim from the Amer- 
ican Pogrom Commission compensation for his looted shop. 
I remember him even though he is not mentioned in my 

I cannot account for these mysterious individual caprices 
of my memory, but I can readily see why the two months 
I spent with the Pogrom Commission should have become 
a permanent influence in my life. I was a Zionist before I 
met Weizmann and would have remained one without 
him; I had involved myself in Jewishness, in the fate of 
the Jewish people, in Yiddish and in Yiddish literature, 
before my visit to Poland, and the involvement would have 
been lifelong without it; but as Weizmann deepened my 
response to the Zionist idea, so that strange, fortuitous, 
direct contact with East European Jewry, attended as it 
was by its peculiar circumstances, added to my involve- 
ment a new element of sensitivity. 

Outside of books, my knowledge of the Jewish world 
had been drawn from our Manchester ghetto and from 
American — chiefly New York — Jewry. Certainly New 
York's East Side Jewry was Jewishly vital, but its vitality 
was not rooted as it were in the landscape, one could not 
yet speak significantly of its local history, whereas East 
European Jewry had a majestic historicity, centuries and 
centuries of it. From Eastern Europe the lines ran back to 
older sites and through them to long-lost, ever-mourned 
Judea; but East European Jewry was a great historic 



phenomenon in its own right, a substantial segment of the 
immense total trajectory of Jewish history. 

Vilna is dominant in my active memory of Poland, 
though I spent more time in Warsaw, with its larger Jew- 
ish community. I was predisposed to that partiality, know- 
ing already that Vilna was the glory of East European 
Jewry — Vilna, the Jerusalem of Lithuania, as they called 
it, for Vilna was historically Lithuanian, not Polish, and 
the Jews were there before the Poles. As it was not the 
largest, so it was not, by far, the oldest East European 
Jewish community, but Vilna rose to unchallenged emi- 
nence as an intellectual and spiritual center and main- 
tained that eminence down to the end. 

Names that mean little to Westernized Jews and nothing 
at all to non-Jews, but were portents in the Jewish world 
of yesterday, are linked with Vilna's history. The most 
illustrious of these names is Elijah Kremer, who is never 
mentioned by his family name, for which the word Gaon 
has been substituted, meaning Excellency, or Genius. 
That title once belonged to the heads of certain academies 
in Babylonia; it fell into disuse with their fall, and was 
revived for bestowal on Elijah of Vilna. His, in the view 
of many, was the greatest and widest-ranging Jewish in- 
tellect of the Exile, with the exception of Maimonides. His 
learning was equalled by his piety, and both by his saintli- 
ness. Except for some travels in his early manhood, he 
never left his native city, the fame of which he began to 
enhance in his boyhood. He was barely out of his teens, a 
Jewish Admirable Crichton or Pico Delia Mirandola, when 
scholars twice and thrice his age were seeking his opinion 
on knotty problems of the Law; and the universal rever- 
ence accorded him was the more remarkable in that he 
was an innovator, and in a sense a rebel. He rejected the 
hair-splitting and casuist spirit still dominant among the 


Talmudists of the eighteenth century and moved from 
the medieval into the modern age, applying philological 
and rational methods to his studies of Talmudic and pre- 
Talmudic literature. He was a grammarian and a mathe- 
matician, and, in contrast to his contemporaries, held that 
a knowledge of science was a necessary part of a Jewish 
education. He left behind him treatises on trigonometry, 
algebra and astronomy, as well as voluminous commen- 
taries on the sacred books. He lived a modest and retiring 
life, refusing honors and high official posts and contenting 
himself with lessons to a chosen group of pupils. His 
saintliness and unostentatious asceticism were a family 
tradition. Of his grandfather, the scholar Moses Kremer, 
it is told that he kept his grocery store open only for as 
many days as were needed to provide a livelihood for the 
current week; and if on Sunday he had earned enough, he 
closed the store till the following Sunday, saying: "The 
other shopkeepers, too, have to make a living." 

The place where Elijah Gaon studied and taught was a 
little klaus (close) or chapel in the Great Synagogue, and 
the Vilna Gaon's Klaus became one of the sanctuaries of 
world Jewry. I went there one evening and looked for a 
long time at the plaque which commemorates the man 
"who sat here for forty years and spread wisdom till his 
name became a glory in the world." 

In all his long and tranquil life, the Vilna Gaon was in- 
volved in only one public controversy, but that a violent 
and memorable one. He was a misnaggid, that is, an oppo- 
nent of Chassidism, that religious revolt of the humble 
and unlearned against the spiritual tyranny of the scholas- 
tics. The founder of Chassidism, Israel, the Baal Shem Tov, 
or Master of the Good Name, was born in 1700, twenty 
years before Elijah Gaon, and died in 1757. The birthplace 
of the movement was Podolia, and its early and rapid 



successes were among the Jews of southern Russia. It ^s^as 
not till some twenty years after the death of its founder 
that Chassidism began to make some headway in Lithu- 
ania. By then, however, the movement had undergone 
much change. Here and there the original simplicity and 
mysticism remained, elsewhere there had crept in the 
feature called Tzaddikism, the superstitious exaltation of 
the Chassidic rebhes, some of whom lived in regal splendor 
on the offerings of their devotees. There had also devel- 
oped an intellectual Chassidism, the first and greatest 
exponent of which was Shnaiur Zalman of Liadi, a man as 
saintly if not as learned as the Gaon himself. Whether it 
was this brand of Chassidism or another that made the 
first breach in Vilna itself, we do not know, but certain it 
is that by the seventies of the eighteenth century little 
secret conventicles of Chassidism existed in Vilna. Equally 
certain is it that the struggle between Misnagdim and 
Chassidim was long and vicious. The Chassidim were for- 
mally excommunicated from the body of Israel by the 
Misnagdic rabbis. Their shops were declared taboo; their 
butcher's meat, though prepared with pimctilious atten- 
tion to the Jewish dietary laws, was declared treij, unclean, 
imfit for consumption by Jews; marriage with their sons 
and daus^hters was declared as heretical as marriasfe with 
the sons and daughters of gentiles. 

It is hard to understand how a gentle spirit like the 
Vilna Gaon lent his authority to such rancors. One suspects 
that he let himself be carried away by wild reports, for, 
having withdrawn into his ivory tower of study, medita- 
tion, and prayer, he never ventured forth to investigate for 
himself. Nor would he avail himself of the one opportunity 
that was offered him to learn the truth at first hand and 
from the highest source, namely Shnaiur Zalman, the 
Rebbe of Liadi, who humbled himself and sought an audi- 


ence with Elijah Gaon. He came as a suppliant to the klaus 
and was refused admittance; he pleaded through the 
closed door and the man inside remained deaf. Was the 
Gaon afraid that he might have to recant? Was he by this 
time, in his fifties, too weary to undertake a struggle with 
his own followers? Was it enough for him that he had been 
an innovator in Jewish studies? Whatever the case, that 
dramatic picture became part of the history of Vilna Jewry, 
remembered long after the two sects had become more or 
less reconciled, each recognizing in the other a fruitful 
branch of the tree of Israel. 

Another towering religious figure associated with Vilna 
is Israel Salanter, of the middle and late nineteenth cen- 
tury, who founded the Musarist or Moralist school. He was 
not a native of Vilna but taught there for a time and left 
his mark on the life of the city, as, indeed, on much of 
East European Jewish life. He was, perhaps indirectly, a 
conciliating element between Misnagdim and Chassidim. 
He deflected attention from the barren acrimony of the 
quarrel by his emphasis on the suppression of egotism in 
all the subtle forms it takes in the self-deceiving human 
being. For Israel Salanter, the Law was an instrument for 
the purification of man in his relations with his fellow- 
men. Though he was a distinguished scholar, he had no 
respect for the man of learning who held that his knowl- 
edge of the Law set him apart in merit; nor did he respect 
the blind and rigid observance of the letter of the Law. In 
his eyes the purpose of the Law was to enable man to live 
a life of goodness and selflessness; therefore, the Law meant 
life before it meant anything else, and where it came in 
conflict with the principle of life it was self-correcting. 

He illustrated this once in a startling manner. 

It was the Day of Atonement, that awesome point in the 
cycle of the Jewish calendar, the only day of fasting and 



self-affliction which can override the tranquillity and hap- 
piness of the Sabbath. Even the Black Fast of the ninth of 
Ab, the reminder of the two Destructions of the Temple, 
bows before the Sabbath, which must be enjoyed to the full 
like any other Sabbath even if it falls on that maleficent 
date; the fasting and the lamentation are deferred to the 
next day. Now, that particular Day of Atonement fell at a 
time when cholera was raging in the city, and preaching 
to the congregation, Israel Salanter pressed the point that 
the law was given to man to live by; and if by reason of 
sickness a man might be endangering his life in observing 
the fast, the spirit of the Law commanded him to break the 
letter of the Law. To drive home this point the Rabbi, him- 
self not infected by the pestilence, drew from his pocket a 
slice of bread, held it up, pronounced the benediction: 
"Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, 
who bringest forth bread from the earth," and ate. The wor- 
shippers beheld with stupefaction this holy act of sacrilege, 
unthinkable save in a saint of the first order; and the les- 
son was never forgotten. 

These personalities and stories and many more for which 
I have not the room here were already familiar to me when 
I visited Vilna. But the city itself was a legend to me. I 
saw it mostly by night, driving through it from end to end, 
the droshky clattering and bumping along under the 
moonlit and cloud-flecked sky. Sometimes I got out on my 
crutches (I had broken a scaphoid in a street accident in 
Paris) and, if the hour was not too late, hobbled with the 
assistance of my guide into courtyards and buildings. They 
were crammed with Jewish history; the obstinacy of the 
Jewish will-to-be was chiseled into their stones. The 
scholars and saints were only the outstanding representa- 
tives of a people's persistence. The Vilna Gaon's klaus, 
famous above all others, was only one of a hundred of its 



kind. For there were the klauses of the trades and pro- 
fessions, the klauses of the bookbinders, the draymen, the 
tinsmiths, the glaziers, the bakers (two such klauses, one for 
the white-bread specialists, the other for the humbler 
black-bread men), the tailors (similarly duplicate, accord- 
ing to grade), the butchers, the musicians, the coopers, the 
carpenters, the chimney sweeps, the cobblers, the grave- 
diggers, and the rest. 

Every klaus had its teacher or its Rabbi, specializing in 
a branch of study, and usually its free-loan association and 
its charity fund. It had its prushim, men who had with- 
drawn from the world and lived out their last years in the 
klaus, studying, eating crusts, and sleeping on the wooden 
benches. To each klaus, but of course particularly to that 
of the Vilna Gaon, men came with their intellectual or 
ritualistic problems, and sorrowing women with their sup- 
plications for husband and children. As the Vilna Gaon's 
was the klaus, so the Great Synagogue was the synagogue, 
and when the Synagogue Courtyard was mentioned with- 
out specification, it could only mean the Courtyard of the 
Great Synagogue. This, with the houses clustering about 
it, was the ghetto of ghettos, the heart of Vilna Jewry, the 
stronghold within the stronghold of tradition. 

But as Vilna led in tradition, so it also led in revolt 
against tradition, and its internecine struggles were a 
fiery distillation of the struggles within the Jewish people 
at large. It was in Vilna that the secular Jewish movements 
found their highest expression. The Bund, anti-religious, 
and revolutionary within the framework of the general 
Russian revolutionary movement, was founded there in the 
same year, 1897, ^hat the first Zionist Congress was held in 
Basle. The Bund was of course anti-Zionist, rabidly, con- 
tempuously, unremittingly, but while one section of it 
stood for the total liquidation of the Jewish people by 



assimilation into the surrounding peoples, another part 
stood for Jewish survival as a Yiddish-speaking national 
minority. Part of the Bund became, after the revolution, 
the Yevsektzia, the Jewish section of the Communist 
Party, which liquidated a large number of Jews and in 
turn was liquidated by Stalin. It was in Vilna that Shmarya 
Levin [my Shmarya) preached during his rabbinical years, 
drawing immense audiences. (I met, in 1919, those who 
remembered with awe his fiery orations and his exhorta- 
tions to the revivial of Hebrew as a spoken language.) 
But it was also in Vilna that the Yiddishist anti-Zionist 
movement was at its strongest. Of Vilna Sholem Asch 
wrote, as late as 1939: "It takes the first place in the recon- 
struction of the Jewish people. Vilna is the center of the 
Yiddish word. It is here that the new folk school was born, 
where the Jewish child is given a modern, all-human up- 
bringing in Yiddish. Vilna has become the Yiddish Jeru- 

One stands in astonishment before the spectacle of a 
community numbering between seventy and eighty thou- 
sand souls capable of presenting such a turbulence of ideas 
and ideals. It calls to mind Renaissance Florence or Peri- 
clean Athens; it calls them to mind also by way of contrast. 
The worship of physical beauty, the delight in the human 
body which were part of the classical paganism of Athens 
and the neo-paganism of Florence were unknown to Vilna. 
Its vitality was exclusively intellectual and moral, and 
therein it was true to the charge laid upon the Jewish 
spirit from of old. 

Vilna Jewry and Polish Jewry no longer exist; they were 
systematically obliterated by Nazi Germany; and what is 
left of East European Jewry as a whole is being ground 
into enforced assimilation by the Communists. There are 
those who hope that some day a change will come about 



in the Communist concept of freedom, but East European 
Jewry as a civilization is done for; its Jerusalem lies in 
ashes, and unlike the Jerusalem through the ruins of which 
the Emperor Hadrian drew the plough, it will not burgeon 
again with a Jewish life. 

There will be no more Vilna Gaons, no more Masters of 
the Good Name, no more Israel Salanters; no more Sholom 
Aleichems and Mendelles and Yal Peretzes and Bialiks and 
Achad Ha-ams and Weizmanns and Shmarya Levins. The 
city communities and the Shtetlach will never be re- 
created. There is a distinction in ghastliness between the 
fates of German-Austrian Jewry and East European Jewry. 
With the former, the Nazis destroyed a high concentrate 
of genius which was placed directly at the service of the 
world; there will be no more Einsteins and Freuds and 
Ehrlichs and Willstaetters. With the latter, the Nazis des- 
troyed a rich form of life; they destroyed a civilization. 

It is this aspect of the Nazi crime that has escaped 
general attention, to some extent understandably. The 
planned slaughter of six million human beings has such a 
paralyzing effect on the imagination, the details of the 
action, the massive organization of it, as for some major 
industrial enterprise, the regimented rounding up and 
transporting, the shooting and gasing and incinerating of 
men, women, and children, lay so crushing a burden on the 
mind that a conceptual grasp of something beyond the 
human suffering is almost impossible. The word genocide 
has become current to denote the wiping out of a people; 
we have no word for the crime of wiping out a civilization. 

It was unforeseen because unimaginable. My experience 
with the Polish Pogrom Investigation Commission colored 
darkly forever after my meditations and researches on anti- 
Semitism, but my darkest forebodings were but the faint 
penumbra of the black reality that was to come. Even so, 
I was considered "hipped" on the subject, and what I wrote 



on anti-Semitism was widely criticized as morbid and un- 
realistic. Would to God that my critics, Jewish and non- 
Jewish, had been right! I will not let myself believe that 
the world will ever witness again a repetition anywhere 
of the Nazi fury against the Jews; I will not because I am 
incapable of abandoning hope. But neither will I consent 
to the view that warning is no longer necessary. 
I read in Gissing's Ryecroft Papers: 

Injustice — there is the loathed crime which curses 
the memory of the world. The slave doomed by his 
lord's caprice to perish under tortures — one feels 
that it is a dreadful and intolerable thing; but it is 
merely the crude presentment of what has been done 
and endured a million times in every state of civiliza- 
tion. Oh, the last thoughts of those who have agonized 
unto death amid wrongs to which no man would give 
ear! That appeal of innocence to the hard, mute heav- 
ens! Were there only one such instance in all the 
chronicles of time, it should doom the past to ab- 
horred oblivion. Yet injustice, the basest, most 
ferocious, is inextricable from warp and woof in the 
tissue of things gone by. And if anyone soothes himself 
with the reflection that such outrages can happen no 
more, that mankind has passed beyond such hideous 
possibility, he is better acquainted with books than 
with human nature. 

I will go on insisting that anti-Semitism is a specific, 
organic disease of Christian civilization; that, wherever it 
appears, it is the companion or forerunner of injustice to 
others than Jews; and far from ignoring, out of timidity 
or a miscalculating prudence, its first public appearance 
anywhere, we should — ^Jew and Christian alike — expose 
it at once as a threat to the whole Judeo-Christian world. 


€^ 266 @ 



Z ^'Writer and Lecturer^' § 

o o 


RiTER and lecturer" is the entry opposite "Oc- 
cupation" on my passport; also on my income-tax form, 
where the order should be reversed, since my books just 
about pay the rent, lectures providing the rest. Descrip- 
tively, the order is correct; most of my labors go into 

But if I did not have to lecture for a living I would be 
running about offering to do it gratis. I still love with all 
the passion of my boyhood the feel of an audience and 
the challenge of oral exposition. I still cannot come across 
an interesting idea without wanting to tell everybody 
about it. I am at the opposite pole from the melancholy 
Jacques with his: "I think of as many things . . . but I 
give thanks to heaven and make no boast of them"; and 
it has been my wild good fortune that, unlike most com- 
pulsive talkers, I have found people willing to pay to 
listen to me. If I had had to stay on a regular job, 
with regular responsibilities, I would have gone to pieces 
under the pressure of my primary compulsion, that of the 

Yet, like some of my betters, I often write when a con- 
siderable part of me would rather be doing something else. 


for the compulsion is a complicated thing. I used to think 
that the hunger for fame was the strongest element in it: 

Fame. The adrenalin: to be talked about; 
To be a verb, to be introduced as The . . . 
To be forgotten with embarrassment; to be — 
To be. 
It has its attractions, but is not the thing. 

Thus A. M. Klein, one of the most unjustly neglected 
of our contemporary poets. No, it is not the thing. The 
hunger for fame has died, with much else. To become 
famous in old age would be like getting cocktails after 
dinner. Of course I want my books to sell, but money 
apart — I must anticipate the time when the inability to 
travel will be cutting into the profits as well as into the 
pleasures of lecturing — I am concerned, more than ever, 
with giving currency to certain views and values. 

This concern mingles with the craftsman's compulsions, 
which grow more and more exacting as my taste improves 
and my powers wane. I want to see how accurate and 
evocative I can make a description, how concisely, grace- 
fully, and tellingly express an idea; most troublesome of 
all, because here I am weakest, how natural, organic, and 
unnoticed I can make the progress of a paragraph, a chap- 
ter, a book; and as a protagonist, which I am more than 
artist pur sang, how proleptic I can make my argument, 
anticipating in it the maximum of possible objections. 

There are, indeed, times when I sit down and write 
furiously for two or three hours. I am "inspired"; the 
afflatus has visited me; my spirit's barque is driven far 
from the shore, far from the trembling throng; I say to my- 
self, exultantly, modestly, and in Cockney: "This is a bit 
of all right!" Such moods are deceptive nine times out of 
ten. What I finally accept as passable, often with a grimace, 



has been rewritten at least once, sometimes three, some- 
times four and ten times, with many deletions, chiefly of 
the inspired passages. On the whole I work in a spirit 
of cheerful determination, but black days will come up 
without warning, without apparent reason; then I write 
and tear up, write and tear up, and count myself lucky if 
I break even. For I can get into a howling rage and tear 
up a week's or a month's work. My gullibility is indestruc- 
tible; let the afflatus touch me and while it lasts I am 
certain, each time, that I am at the top of my form. Experi- 
ence has taught me nothing; I am like the undiscourage- 
able youngster who takes every month's crush for his 
elective affinity. 

To be unable to write when I want — and it does not 
matter whether the drive is joyous or pleasantly dogged or 
grimly dogged — turns the whole world awry. There is 
a conspiracy; I am being persecuted. It happens less fre- 
quently now, my days have for a long time been more or 
less my own. I will not tolerate interruptions except by 
arrangement — these science lessons, for instance. Even my 
beloved lectures can become a great nuisance. If one in- 
trudes — fortunately it is almost always in the evening — I 
strip the obligation down to its essentials of preparation 
and delivery, though once I am on the platform, my dis- 
comforts vanish. 'Tor the duration" I avoid welcoming 
committees, decline to visit local sights, turn down dinner 
invitations, excuse myself (with rudeness when unavoid- 
able) from the reception that usually follows a lecture. 
This for the duration only; when the fit is over, I am as 
sociable as an ant, curious about people and their individ- 
ual and family histories, about congregational affairs and 
communal politics. Thus, I am remembered by some as a 
morose snob, by others as a most companionable fellow. 

I learned early to insulate myself from my surroundings 



and to work almost anywhere. I traveled — I still do some- 
times — with a small portable typewriter which I used on 
trains, planes, ships, and even buses. The moment I got 
into my hotel room I shifted the table around to get the 
best light from window or lamp, took out books and manu- 
script, and was at it. During the actual traveling I had 
wax stopples in my ears; if the passenger in the adjacent 
seat addressed me, I would remove the nearer stopple 
laboriously and say: "I beg your pardon?" I would answer 
briefly and courteously, then replace the stopple with the 
same elaborate ritual. I was rarely addressed a second time. 
The sharpest and most intractable compulsion is the one 
that attends what at the moment seems to be, and on rare 
occasions is, the birth of an idea. I must write it down at 
once, wherever I am, whatever I may be doing (I may, in 
fact, be writing — two compulsions in fratricidal dispute!), 
and less from the fear of losing it than from the need to 
file it away where it will stop bothering me. If I can sus- 
pend the current activity, I will give the newborn idea all 
the time it asks for; otherwise I must content myself with 
a rapid outline; and if even that much is impossible, I 
become distraught. In the army this variety of compulsion 
made me a source of hilarity to my fellow-soldiers, and it 
got me into a memorable engagement when I was working 
in the calender room of the Goodyear Rubber factory in 
Akron. My fellow-workers on the night shift looked with 
suspicion on my habit of running into a corner, pulling 
out pencil and notebook, and scribbling wildly for a min- 
ute or so. Finally one of them loudly voiced the opinion 
that I was a company spy. I angrily offered to show him 
my notes when the shift was over, and a small group of us 
gathered before the gate in the dawn light. Far from 
allaying suspicion, the notes, codelike, half legible, excited 
it the more. One thing leading to another, I called my 



accuser a bald-headed son of a bitch. What I meant to say 
was boneheaded, which, being within the limits of diplo- 
matic exchange, is not a casus belli, but he did happen to 
be partly bald and I was not in complete control of myself. 
In the ensuing set-to, he proved that he was also what A. E. 
Housman calls the better man, and I did not return to the 
factory that evening — or ever again. The worst of it is that 
these jottings are as unreliable as the longer fits of inspira- 
tion; when I reread them later, they are apt to astonish 
me by their flatness and pointlessness. 

The reader is entitled to smile. "What a fuss! He must 
really think himself a genius." No; that, with the hunger 
for fame, was spurlos versenkt decades ago, though the 
compulsions remain. Some of my work is well forgotten, 
some I consider useful, and part of that, good. How good, 
God alone knows, and the reviewers are not in His con- 
fidence. Such reviews as come my way no longer affect me. 
The unfavorable ones I read with a shrug: 'Tor all the 
attention he pays, he might just as well have liked it." The 
favorable ones give me the same mild pleasure as a 
weighing-machine character-analysis card which assures me 
that I am a man of inflexible determination. There have 
been a few exceptions; here and there a reviewer has read 
carefully, and when he has been dissatisfied for reasons I 
found valid (and in fact already knew), I have wanted 
to write him a long, warm letter of thanks. 

Even my early delusions of genius had in them an ele- 
ment of pretence; I would not otherwise have endured 
so many frustrations. I would have turned away from my 
family: "Lass sie betteln gehn, wenn sie hungrig sind" ; but 
then, I am myself unable to put up with the privations and 
humiliations of grinding poverty, as a Dostoevsky did, or 
be a hanger-on like a Rainer Maria Rilke. How stunning 
are those rare figures at the very top, a Shakespeare, a 



Goethe, who combine supreme genius with worldly 
savoir-faire, and sail through life with reasonable comfort, 
acceptable to God and the tax collector. 

In the days when I got few lecture dates, and those 
poorly paid, I did an immense amount of translating from 
Yiddish, German, French, and Hebrew, with Yiddish out- 
weighing the other three combined. This interfered far 
less with my own writing than the steady job — to be told 
about in due course — which I held for seven years, for 
I could fit much of it into my creative schedule. Certain 
writers, such as Sholom Aleichem, Bialik, Peretz, Shmarya 
Levin, I felt it my duty to make accessible to English 
readers; others, such as I. J. Singer and Sholem Asch, were 
bread and butter jobs. But I never translated a book I 
did not in some measure respect. I quarreled and almost 
broke with Sholem Asch when I refused to translate the 
third volume of his New Testament trilogy, Mary, and his 
novel of our times, East River. 

When my own work is not hounding me, I can find 
pleasure in translating; it is a separate craft, with problems 
and frustrations of its own. I often read masterly transla- 
tions — Shakespeare in German, Proust in English — side by 
side with the originals, delighting in particular ingenui- 
ties. (The greatest of all translations, the King James ver- 
sion of the Bible, stands apart; how it was done is beyond 
one's imagination.) Great translators are rarer than great 
writers (the two never seem to come together) and, alas, 
I am no more a Schlegel or a Scott-Montcrieff than I am 
a Shakespeare or a Proust. 

Sholom Aleichem I transmitted rather than translated. 
Supreme among Yiddish writers, he is so drenched in the 
idiom of the Shtetl that every other sentence cries out 
for a paragraph of explanation — and he par excellence a 
humorist! I confess that when I read translations by Sho- 



lorn Aleichem I wince rather than laugh — but I could not 
have done better myself. I wrote round him, and about 
him, retelling rather than translating. So, too, with Yal 
Peretz, who is, however, less of a problem, being more of 
an intellectual. I waited many years, and lectured a good 
deal on both men, before I undertook to "render" them 
into English. Bialik I tackled early because I did not 
and do not find as wide a gap between Hebrew and Eng- 
lish as between Yiddish and English, Shmarya Levin was 
moderately difficult, I. J. Singer quite easy, and Sholem 
Asch easiest of all. In substance and style I. J. Singer (not 
to be confused with his younger brother, Bashevis Singer) 
is remote from the Shtetl; Asch began there and moved 
away from it. Asch's best book, Der T'hillim Yid (literally. 
The Psalm-Jew, translated as Salvation), is one of his 
earliest. It reads poorly in English and was a failure; I 
was asked to retranslate it, but hadn't the courage to try. 
I. J. Singer has done well in English; Asch was of course 
a tremendous success with and after his New Testament 
trilogy. To my considerable annoyance, I am better known 
as his translator than as an original writer, whence obvi- 
ously — to anticipate trigger-happy amateur psychoanalysts 
— the moderateness of my esteem for his later work. But I 
have less disreputable grounds for remembering Asch with 
distress; he brought a vast amount of still-continuing 
trouble into my life. As the sales of his books soared, one 
after another, into the hundreds of thousands, the rumor 
got about that he owed everything to my genius as editor- 
translator. There was no truth in it, but the rumormongers 
were nearly all Yiddish writers with their own standards 
of evaluation and modes of reasoning. Some of them might 
admit that Asch was not at all bad as compared with them- 
selves, but he wasn't that good; ergo, I had played vis-a-vis 
Asch the combined roles of Perkins vis-a-vis Wolfe and 
Scott-Montcrieff vis-a-vis Proust. 



It became an article of faith in part of the Yiddish 
literary world that to get me as translator was to be assured 
of success, and some considered me such a good translator 
that they advised me to write in Yiddish and translate my- 
self into English, Thus, for nearly a quarter of a century I 
have had to fight off a succession of desperate men in whose 
minds I was fixed as the only hope. I learned to see in a 
new and terrifying light Mahomet's classic description 
of the Jews as "the People of the Book." 

"Fight off" is putting it feebly; some I have had to peel 
away with patches of my skin. As an experienced reader, I 
need only look at the first few paragraphs of a book or 
manuscript to estimate the quality of the material; to 
make completely sure, I pick a few pages at random, and I 
have never been "disappointed." But what can you do 
with a man who insists that you read every one of his fifty 
or a hundred thousand or two hundred thousand words 
because, he assures you, that is the only way you can get 
the true effect? What can you do if he implores and de- 
mands that you let him read to you for an hour or two, if 
he telephones again and again, offering to clarify certain 
passages which, he admits, cannot be appreciated without 
sustained attention under his supervision? Your blood 
pressure rises from call to call, in the end you bang down 
the receiver — and feel remorseful, angrier with yourself 
than with your tormentor. Does he not, after all, feel as 
frustrated as a true artist? 

The occasionally humble, who bow quietly to my No 
and withdraw with dignity, are almost as bad. A throb of 
sympathy passes through me; this is obviously a fine human 
being. I want to mitigate in some measure the effect of 
my rejection. But one incautious word and I shall be 

For these time-wasting, energy-consuming, nerve-wear- 
ing episodes I blame Sholem Asch. If only he had been 



considerate enough not to achieve a succes fou! If only I 
had had the foresight to leave my name out as translator! 
But on the other hand I wanted it there for business 

However, this complaint is partly balanced by a debt 
of gratitude. If the Jews have a higher proportion of 
scribbling maniacs than any other people, they also have 
a higher proportion of true literary talent. Some of this I 
have discovered for myself, some has been brought to my 
attention as the too well-known translator of Sholem 
Asch. How pleasant it is to come upon a good piece of 
work by an unknown! And what a sinking feeling follows: 
"We have to do something about this." More than one 
publisher, my own included, and more than one Jewish 
foundation, will testify to the persistence with which I 
have urged the merits of Jewish writers, and to the labor I 
have put, so often in vain, into getting an English-reading 
public for them. 

Because Asch's portraits of Jesus, Paul, and Mary were 
warmly sympathetic, he was widely and stupidly accused 
of seeking to convert Jews to Christianity, from which it 
followed that he was himself a secret convert, a sort of 
undercover agent for the Church. This malicious inven- 
tion still comes up during question periods of my lectures. 
As it happened, Asch was Jewish through and through; 
apostasy was as remote from him, with his make-up and 
attachments, as from an orthodox Jew. 

Those who charged Asch with apostasy usually added 
that in his New Testament novels he had also sinned for 
money; he had deliberately descended from his natural 
level. Talk of this kind is silly on general grounds. A man 
with ingrained standards — and Asch had them — cannot 
get rid of them. He may try his hand at a potboiler, but 
here and there the craftsman creeps in, and pride being 



Stronger than prudence, he lets the phrases stand, hoping 
the reader won't notice that he is confronted with litera- 
ture. The result is neither the one thing nor the other. 
Even writers who declare, with what they hope will pass 
for disarming frankness, that they know they are writing 
trash, having no genuine talent, are lying. Only a saint is 
capable of such humility, and saints who think they can't 
write don't. 

To one who knew Asch personally, the charge is silly 
on particular grounds. He had a massive conception of 
himself as an artist, and developed a deep grievance as 
year after year went by without bringing him the Nobel 
Prize. To him his New Testament novels were more than 
literary masterpieces; they were a Messianic attempt to 
reconcile Jewry and Christendom. He was dumbfounded 
when I refused to translate Mary. I would not tell him 
outright that I thought the book an artistic mess, but that 
was what my individual objections amounted to. The 
sympathy he had brought to his portrayals of Jesus and 
Paul became cloying sentimentality when he turned to 
Mary. Here he could indeed be unjustly suspected of 
secret Christological sentiments, and even of what many 
Christians have objected to, namely, Mariolatry. The rage 
of his slanderers had, however, spent itself on The Naza- 
rene and The Apostle, where it had not a shadow of 

Protagonist, propagandist, teacher — all these descrip- 
tions fit me. My over-all message, addressed to Jews, is 
that a knowledge of Jewish history in the widest sense — 
the experiences and thoughts of the Jewish people from 
antiquity to the present — is indispensable to the Jew who 
wants to remain Jewish without becoming warped by anti- 
Semitism. I may also be described as a one-man Anti-Self- 
Defamation League, on the prowl for Jewish writers who 



transfer their Jewish self-hatred to their people; and I told 
an audience recently that I look upon myself as an em- 
ployee of the Jewish people with a lifelong contract on 
which only one signature appears. I am a professional Jew, 
in a class with rabbis, fund-raisers, Hebrew teachers, execu- 
tives of Jewish institutions, and the like, but while they 
are on regular salaries I peddle piecework. From the point 
of view of security this has its drawbacks, but the com- 
pensations outweigh them. I have no organization, no 
board of trustees, no executive committees to reckon with, 
no fellow-employees to adjust to. Nor can the accusation, so 
common in public life, of hanging on to a job, be leveled 
at me. Nobody is contractually committed to buying my 
books or listening to my lectures. 

In the roles I have mentioned — to which may be added 
Unofficial Minister for Jewish Self-Improvement — I am a 
much misunderstood man. A questioner at a lecture once 
said: "Whatever happens anywhere in the world you ask 
right away: 'Is that good for the Jews?' " I answered: "The 
criterion has its merits. An improvement in the position of 
the Jews anywhere usually goes with an improvement in 
the condition of the host people. Oppression of the Jews 
indicates a deterioration." My questioner remained stand- 
ing, dissatisfied. "Perhaps you mean," I said, "that I am 
narrow, parochial, Jewish-centered, to the exclusion of 
all other interests?" He nodded. I went on: "To be Jewish- 
centered is to be world-centered; we are a world-people." I 
quoted Zangwill's adaptation of Terence's line: "Judaeus 
sum, humani nil a me alienum, puto." 

But he had touched on old memories, on forgotten 
ambitions and discomforts. I had longed to be famous in 
the world at large, and yet I had let myself be absorbed 
in the Jewish problem, an unpromising area. Novels 
about Jews, yes; essays on general problems, yes; but essays 



on Jewish problems! They are a deliberate bid for obscu- 
rity. This is not to say that I could have achieved promi- 
nence elsewhere, but I certainly did not give myself the 
chance. I once wrote a book called King Mob, a study of 
modern mass psychology, under a pseudonym (Frank K. 
Notch, which I thought smacked of New England crusti- 
ness) because by that time I had become typed as a writer 
on the Jewish problem. I did not want my regular readers 
(I already had some) to buy the book under a misapprehen- 
sion; and I did not want reviewers to turn from it under 
the same misapprehension. (I myself was still under the 
misapprehension that books are sold by favorable re- 
views.) Such reviews as I saw were for the most part highly 
favorable; one reviewer thought I was Sinclair Lewis, which 
I thought offensive. The book did not make Frank K. 
Notch famous, but I feel that if he had been encouraged 
he might have become a somebody-at-large. I abandoned 
him, sucked back into my fated preoccupation. I have since 
then made other excursions into the general field, under 
my own name, but they have been single and unsustained 

I have said that if I had had to stay on a regular job 
with regular responsibilities I would have gone to pieces 
under my primary compulsion, that of the writer. I mean 
nothing spectacular, like drink or jail or suicide or the 
electric chair; only a run of the mill squalid and fretful 
life. Yet my seven years as employee of the American 
Zionist Organization — the only steady job I ever held — 
should have been happy ones. The ideals of the organiza- 
tion were in line with mine; I had audiences to address 
and a periodical to write in; most of my immediate as- 
sociates were congenial, and the pay was good. I was in 
fact superficially happy for a time. But something was 
going on underneath that made me resign and take the 



risky plunge into the life of a free-lance. The year was 
1928. If I had known what lay ahead, I might have stayed 

There are many kinds of work I am not fitted for. I 
would fail as a teacher because I would play up to the good 
students and neglect the poor ones. I cannot endure edi- 
torial work; straightening out and polishing another man's 
sentences is my idea of intellectual slavery. As reader and 
adviser in a publishing house I would miss all the best 
sellers. But if there is anything I am supremely unfitted 
for, it is day-to-day political work. 

I am ill at ease and tire quickly in company not to my 
taste. I admire clever and patient negotiators without 
wanting to be one. If I have to take up a "bargaining posi- 
tion" — ask for more than my side is entitled to or is 
prepared to settle for — I am so self-conscious that the 
maneuver backfires. As a liar I would trip myself up with a 
superfluity of corroborative detail. In short, as a practical 
politician I am hopeless, and by no means proud of the 

The American Zionist Organization was a political 
body, made up of all sorts of people. It was a small seg- 
ment of American Jewry, but had its parties and cliques, 
pro-labor and anti-labor, religious and secular, Achad Ha- 
Amist (emphasis on the cultural-spiritual), so-called 
Herzlian (emphasis on the political), pro-Birobidjan (the 
Russian plan for a Jewish state in Siberia — exclusively for 
Russian Jews — what a fraud that was!), anti-Birobidjan. 
The mass of American Jewry was inert to Zionism, most 
of the Jewish labor movement (classical socialist) was 
hostile, so was most of Reform Judaism; Jewish intel- 
lectuals at large despised it, and when Ludwig Lewisohn 
became a Zionist he went into the wilderness. Such — and 
more like it — was the complex of forces I had to work in. 



I was for a time a member of the American Zionist 
administration and for a year a member of the Actions 
Committee of the World Zionist Organization. I had to 
take sides, accept compromises, obey caucus decisions when 
it had so been agreed, and vote against my convictions 
or, ao^ainst them, refrain from votinsr. I had to seek the 
votes of people I found noisome, and I stumbled over the 
gushing courtesies which are the lubricants of political 
co-operation, the pot calling the kettle white for the return 
compliment. I realized that there is no other way in politi- 
cal life, and "political life" extends into every variety of 
organized human activity — synagogue and church, yeshivah 
and university, and the most idealistic associations and 
brotherhoods. I realized that the man who is "above poli- 
tics" is simply letting others do the disagreeable work 
which is indispensable to the conduct of human affairs. 

Jewish leadership in America is almost entirely unpro- 
fessional; there are few important jobs and, if I may so put 
it, no pork barrels. Rewards therefore take honorific 
forms: presidencies, chairmanships, a place on a letter- 
head, newspaper publicity, oratorical encomiums by visit- 
ing bigwigs at local banquets. In most cases such rewards 
are well earned; much labor and devotion goes into the 
successful direction of a U.J. A. or Israel Bond drive, the 
creation of an institution, though the heavy spadework is 
of course done by professionals. All this I could let pass, 
but when the extorted reward is the privilege of delivering 
an address before an important audience, the result some- 
times crosses the threshold of my endurance. The majority 
of amateur speakers have so little rapport with their lis- 
teners that they are insensitive to the most demonstrative 
inattention. They seem to be addressing themselves. A 
hum of conversation rises in the hall, a general dispersal 
sets in; they go on, undeterred. They remind me of my 



aunt Mallie, who never connected with anybody. I marvel 
that they should so hunger for an audience and, getting 
one, should have nothing to do with it. 

My enthusiasm for the cause carried me along for a 
number of years, but, underneath, a double revolt was 
gathering. First, of the writer. I was miserably cramped 
for time; I could not periodically set aside a few weeks for 
leisurely production, tinkering with sentences and chapters. 
I could not set aside a daily interval. I could not as the 
representative of the Zionist Organization behave on lec- 
ture tours as I have done since. I was at the disposal of the 
Zionist community from arrival to departure. In New 
York I had my office duties. There was as little room here 
for "compulsions" as there had been in the army or at the 
Goodyear Rubber Company. The books I managed to 
turn out during that period were substandard even for 

Second, of the free commentator. An organization man 
is bound by rules; if he agrees with them, he belongs by 
nature and conviction; otherwise, he must get out or go 
under. There is the sacred-cow rule: a certain man is use- 
ful to the movement. You think that his practical useful- 
ness is more than offset by the demoralizing influence on 
Jewish life of his vulgarity and his unsavory business rep- 
utation. A certain rabbi plays a leading role in Zionism; 
it is your opinion that his arrogance and his pathological 
careerism are bad for the movement and worse for the 
rabbinate. You feel it your duty to make known your 
opinions in print; the organization does not consider this 
helpful. (I ought to add that I have known a saint in Jew- 
ish political life; that was Henrietta Szold, the founder of 
Hadassah, and it is inconceivable that even she did not 
now and again deviate from strictly saintly standards by 
silence or evasion.) 



There is the rule that the organization is always right 
in its external relationships — the equivalent of "My coun- 
try right or wrong" and "politics stops at the frontier." If 
you believe your organization to be in the wrong, you may, 
indeed, stay in it, and try to set it right; but you cannot 
be its employee. 

I was at odds with the organization on some issues. 
Under the cruel pressure of a rising world anti-Semitism, 
it devoted little attention to the spiritual needs of the 
Jewish people, concentrating on the promotion of im- 
migration into Palestine. I thought this understandable 
but wrong, a shortsighted self-defeating policy. The at- 
tention paid to the young generation was fitful and inade- 
quate, and it seldom rose above the intellectual level of a 
Sunday school. The organization should have founded and 
maintained at a loss a periodical of high literary quality, a 
forum for established Jewish writers, an invitation to 
young writers of promise. I believed that a culturally and 
spiritually reawakened Jewry would ultimately yield larger 
practical results. But a cultural and spiritual renaissance is 
a vague thing, and the cry was for practical results now. 
Again, there crept into the movement a repellent Jewish 
jingoism which has increased with the founding of the 
Jewish state. Many leading Zionists disapproved; the or- 
ganization could not make such disapproval its business. 
For all these reasons I left the employ of the organiza- 
tion: but, chiefly, to be "free to write." 

But how remote already was the literary parole of my 
Paris days: "Art for art's sake. If the writing is good it 
needs no other justification. The true artist takes in the 
literary field Cesare Borgia's motto in the political: 'Fais 
ce que voudras, advienne que pourra — do what you want 
to do, come what may.' Express yourself. Don't teach, don't 
preach, don't play the world-improver, leave that to the 



deluded busybodies who anyhow do more harm than 

That was gone — and yet twinges of it continued to 
haunt me, and do till this day. I want to write something 
just for the fun of it — to the extent that writing is fun. I 
once took off three months to write an intellectual thril- 
ler. The Devil That Failed, about a man who was kid- 
napped by a group of pygmies who managed, by the ingen- 
ious arrangement of his surroundings, to persuade him 
that they were of normal size and that he had suffered an 
attack of gigantism; his problem was to discover without 
help from outside his miniaturized surroundings, that he 
was normal and his captors abnormal. I still like the book, 
which was reprinted in England, though I am afraid that 
it is tainted by a moral. I once wrote a novel of husband- 
and-wife relations. Beyond Woman, and can read parts of 
it without distaste; I spoiled it by making the characters 
gentile while my models were Jewish. But for these, and 
my first two novels, whose names I won't mention, my 
books have had some sort of educational purpose chiefly 
for the benefit of Jews. However, with the reservation 
noted, there was occasional fun in the writing of these 
books. The World of Sholom Aleichem, which has been 
reprinted every two or three years since I wrote it twenty 
years ago (and lest the reader wonder why I need to lec- 
ture, let me mention that its sale has not yet reached the 
thirty-thousand mark), and Prince of the Ghetto, on Yal 
Peretz, were enjoyable tasks; the nearest to pure fun was 
Certain People of the Book, a reconstruction of a number 
of Biblical characters. The Gentleman and the Jew was 
hard going, and there was no fun at all in The Professor 
and the Fossil, a retort to Arnold Toynbee's A Study of 
History, with its nasty misprision of the Jews, or Level 
Sunlight, a critical examination of the State of Israel in 



1953, with attention to negative features. Other books I 
have written I shall mention further on; and there are 
many more that I want to write. 

I want to write a book to be called The Charm of Yid- 
dish, and I would open with a detailed side by side com- 
parison of Shtutchkoff's magnificent Thesaurus of the 
Yiddish language and Roget's Thesaurus of the English 
language, showing how the number of words and idioms 
gathered round particular objects and ideas in the respec- 
tive languages mirrors the differences in the modes of 
thinking and of historical experience. Hints on this sub- 
ject are scattered throughout my Jewish books, but they 
are not enough. The power and attractiveness of Yiddish 
owe much to its dual character. Its beginnings lay in simple 
economic necessity; Jewish traders in the Rhine Valley 
eight or nine hundred years ago, coming up from the 
south, had to learn the local dialects, and turned them into 
a jargon; into this jargon they ultimately infused the non- 
economic element of their lives, their Jewishness. The 
final result was a language far more strongly polarized than 
English or French or German into a spirit of practicality 
and a spirit of other-wordliness, of mercantilism and Mes- 
sianism. I would have to do a great deal of reading for this 

I want to make a study of Jewish apostates, of which 
there are many types: Heine, who "converted" for con- 
venience and remained emotionally tied to his people and 
its traditions; in his class were Daniel Chwolsohn and 
Benjamin Disraeli — but it was the elder Disraeli who led 
his family into the Church; Karl Marx, too, grew up in a 
converted household, but he thought of the Jews with 
hatred; Boris Pasternak and Simone Weil were genuine 
converts, with widely different approaches; Jacob Frank 
and Sabbathai Tzvi were pathological cases. There are 



non-religious Jewish "apostates" who demonstratively 
repudiate their people in the name of a secular cause, just 
as Pasternak did it in the name of his brand of Christian- 
ity. Such a man was David Bergelson, also a Russian Jew 
who, however, wrote in Yiddish; but whereas Pasternak's 
repudiation was compassionate and condescending, Bergel- 
son's was filled with a Streicher-like loathing of Jewish 
things. Most of Bergelson's novels are merely indifferent 
to the subject, but his greatest book, Bam Dnieper {By 
the Dnieper), a magnificent panorama of Russian and 
Jewish life at the turn of the century, is haunted by an 
obsessive disgust with Jewish life, and in passage after pas- 
sage he descends to the level of Der Volkische Beohachter. 
Yiddish and Hebrew critics usually ignore Bam Dnieper, 
and thus his name is allowed to stand high on the roster 
of Yiddish literature. I suppose that in a way it should; but 
when Bergelson is included in the martyrology of Jewish 
writers who were liquidated by Stalin, I protest. At one 
time I wanted to see Bam Dnieper translated into English, 
for the record. I wanted this particular piece of Jewish 
history to be more widely known; I wanted the role of 
the Yevsektzia to be understood, and I wanted to point 
the moral of its miserable fate. But so many friends have 
disagreed with me, fearing the harm that would be done, 
that I have changed my mind. As to Ilya Ehrenburg, who 
writes in Russian, I am at a loss as to how to classify him. 
He has used and abused his self-identification as Jew with 
immense skill, to become the only prominent Jewish 
writer in Russia who has survived unpersecuted into a 
somewhat malodorous old age. 

I would like to write a long essay on my relations to 
America, the country without which there would hardly 
be a Jewish people today and therefore no Jewish home- 
land; and a book on American Jewish writers, with special 



attention to the recent crop; and still another on the 
enthusiasms of intellectuals without wisdom and their un- 
reliability as guides to enduring values. 

But, above all, I want to write a book on the layman's 
relation to science or, rather, to scientific knowledge, re- 
cording, among other things, my sad belief — the result of 
some years of study — that scientific knowledge cannot be 
"popularized"; that without the equivalent of a sound 
high-school and first- and second-year university training 
in the subject, one can't begin to understand what the 
scientists are saying in their capacity as scientists; that 
most science popularizations and practically all TV scienti- 
fic programs (excluding the tutorial ones) are, in that 
sense, frauds; and that the problem of the relation be- 
tween the humanist and the scientist is a long, long way 
from solution. The problem has of late been haunting me 
with such persistence that I even tried to weave it sub- 
stantially into this book as part of my life experience; but 
it got out of hand and I must return to it elsewhere. 

It is generally held that as a writer ages he improves his 
style at the expense of his ideas. I will say nothing about 
my style, but I am bursting with ideas; they may not be 
good ones, but the urge to expound them is as compulsive 
as ever. 


® 286 C4 


i . I 

I TA^ Maggid t 

t ® i 

^ «(• 



HE FIRST TIME a chairman, thanking me at the end 
of a lecture, made use of the kindly formula: "May he be 
spared many years to carry on the good work," I nearly 
laughed out aloud. I took it he was confusing me with 
another lecturer, as chairmen sometimes do. I glanced 
over the audience — not a smile anywhere. The absurdity 
of it! Why, only yesterday they had been using the other 
formula: "This brilliant young man . . ." Then it occurred 
to me that I had been addressing audiences for over half 
a century. 

I see myself as one of the Maggidim, the wandering 
preachers of East European Jewry about whom I had first 
heard from Lamport, and my line of descent is through 
Shmarya Levin, himself a modernized version of the tradi- 
tion. My lecture subjects are drawn mostly from books I 
have written on Jewish themes and books I intend to 
write, and, as I have indicated, I do not pretend to be 
merely a purveyor of information. I have an axe to grind. 
My general objective in lecturing, as in writing, is to help 
Jews acquire an interest in Jewish knowledge with the 
hope that they will transmit it to their children, though, 
with the recent improvement in Jewish youth education, 


the children sometimes know more than the parents, and 
then it is a question of encouraging the parents at least to 
keep up with their children. Where the interest already 
exists, I cater to it. My theory of Zionist propaganda is 
that the more a Jew knows of his people's cultural and 
spiritual heritage the more likely he is to be a Zionist. 

It took me many years to create a market for my lec- 
turers. I had to educate audiences to like the kind of 
education I offered. I was told that I was too highbrow, 
but the curious thing was that I never heard from the 
people I was too highbrow for. It was always: "As far as I'm 
concerned, you understand, it was wonderful. I enjoy an 
intellectual talk; but everybody isn't like you and me." 
Actually, as the attentive reader — if I still have one at this 
point — will have perceived, there is nothing of the high- 
brow about me as a writer; as a lecturer I am equally 
unambitious. I only asked my audiences to think along 
with me; it called for a very modest effort, and they were 
more than equal to it; but they had been conditioned into 
a prejudice that a lecture was not the proper place for that 
sort of thing. What with that and my interludes of un- 
sociability, I got few invitations even at derisory fees. After 
about two and a half decades, I had as many engagements 
as I cared to accept, at better, though still moderate, fees 
— a confirmation of Sholom Aleichem's aphorism that 
every Jew would die a millionaire if he only lived long 

I find this crucial difference between writing and lec- 
turing: in the first the feeling of accomplishment or failure 
is deferred; in the second it is immediate. It takes me a 
long time to decide — if ever I do — whether something I 
have written has done the job; lecturing, I know from 
minute to minute whether I am doing well or badly; and 
"doing well" does not simply mean holding the attention 



of the audience; it means holding the attention o£ the 
audience while presenting and conveying the ideas I want 
to present and convey. 

But how do I know whether a substantial part of the 
audience is getting the ideas? It is not by the degree of 
attentiveness. It is something else, a special sense, a mutual 
interpenetration of the audience's mind and mine, a radar 
effect connected, perhaps, with otherwise not perceptible 
changes of expression and posture, and perhaps connected 
with as yet scientifically undefined modes of communica- 
tion between persons face to face. When I feel that I am 
not getting the idea across, I change the line quickly, 
choose another approach, start with a new supporting 
anecdote, quotation, recent event, historical parallel. Bib- 
lical allusion. I must add that getting an idea across does 
not mean getting it accepted. The satisfaction lies in being 
understood, not in being agreed with. 

There are lecturers who read from a manuscript and 
lecturers who have memorized their text. They belong to 
another species; their relationship to the personality of 
their audience is a mystery to me. Readers and reciters are 
not lecturers in my book, nor are political and religious 
orators; nor does the word apply to writers who take to 
the platform for a killing in the wake of a successful book, 
or to explorers just returned from a mountain peak or an 
ocean crevasse. 

Next to the illusion of an inspired writing spell, I know 
of no higher pleasure than to stand before an audience and 
get into a streak when speech comes easily, the phrases are 
right, the quotations hit home, the thesis unfolds clearly 
and logically, and the audience follows; the highest point 
is reached when I suddenly perceive a novel way of pre- 
senting the material and exploit it successfully. Corres- 
pondingly, a botched lecture fills me with the acutest 


misery. There are times when I fail to take hold of an 
audience; for all the echo reaching me, I might as well be 
talking into a barrel of sawdust. Or, taking hold of the 
audience, I fail to develop the thesis, I produce only an 
approximation and leave an impression tangential to my 
intentions. The audience may be attentive, it may be 
working with me, it may applaud heartily at the end, but 
I am filled with disgust at my ineptitude. 

Sometimes I get off to a bad start, and the fault may 
not be wholly mine. The chairman has been prolix and 
foolish, the audience has lost its cohesion, and my stored-up 
initial momentum is dissipated. This handicap can be best 
overcome by rebuking the chairman; the audience is 
pulled together by the authoritative gesture and I have 
worked off my resentment. But this corrective can backfire 
in unexpected ways. I lectured once in Bloemfontein, 
South Africa, on Arab-Jewish relations. My chairman was 
a Rabbi Rohm, who introduced me for thirty-two minutes 
in a lecture of his own on the same subject. When I got 
the floor, I asked to be forgiven for saying that I had been 
burning while Rohm was fiddling. The audience didn't 
get over it, and every few minutes throughout the lecture 
a chuckle would break out and spread from row to row. 
Sometimes the audience cannot settle down; private con- 
versations spring up; I let them go on for a minute or 
two, then point my finger at the culprits and ask them 
either to behave or leave the hall. A latecomer will enter 
at the back and start walking ostentatiously to the front; 
it is usually a lady wearing high heels, and the impudent 
tap-tap echoes from wall to wall, making heads turn auto- 
matically. I break off to say: "If you can't hear well, or 
are shortsighted, come early." Shmarya Levin's rule was: 
A lecturer must treat his audience with respect, and vice 
versa. I was at a meeting with him when a young woman 



in the front row began to chew gum audibly while she 
stared up at him. Levin leaned over and said icily: 
"Madam, swallow the damn thing or spit it out." I cannot 
remember which she did, if either, but she stopped chew- 

Getting and holding the attention of an audience is 
only the first step; the second, without which the first is 
pointless, is to make creative use of its attention. A lec- 
turer must have, for each occasion, and at his fingertips, 
ten times as much material as he needs for his purpose. He 
must be able to pick and choose according to the response 
he is getting. Even so, addressing seventy or eighty audi- 
ences a year, he is in danger of growing stale to himself 
and therefore listless toward his audience. Repetition is 
inevitable, but the varieties of combinations and their 
improvisation help to keep him fresh. And there is al- 
ways the windfall, the unexpected new vista of exposi- 
tion which opens up right in the middle of the lecture. 
It has its dangers, of course; you adjust quickly to make 
room for it, perhaps to discover that it has led you astray. 
You remember an important point you were about to 
make when the visitation interrupted, but you must not 
go back; you must wait for an opportunity in the question 
and answer period. Shmarya Levin used to say: "Going 
back on a deal is poor business practice, going back to a 
lost point is poor lecture practice." 

It may seem unnecessary to add that one must be abso- 
lutely honest with an audience, but many lecturers think 
they are honest enough if they do not quote unreliable 
statistics or repeat as fact what they have heard as rumor. 
Honesty demands that you never offer a plausible argu- 
ment hoping that no one in the audience knows the effec- 
tive counterargument. It is dishonest to shrink from the 
prospect of a hostile reaction, or to veil your convictions 



in deprecatory language, or to ingratiate yourself by turn- 
ing folksy. These are the devices of the politician and the 
orator, not of the lecturer. 

Like Gaul and Mr. Schiff, my average audience is com- 
posed of three parts; an informed and sophisticated core, 
an intelligent receptive mass, and a small nondescript 
periphery — harmless people with minds as difficult to 
locate as the whereabouts of an electron. For these last, 
attendance at a Jewish affair is an act of piety, a gesture 
toward the higher life. I can always identify them by their 
eagerness to thank me at the close of the evening. They are 
given to protracted handshakes with a pumphandling or 
rotatory motion or a complicated grip like a lodge signal. 
Their congratulations are warm and undiscriminating: 
"Mr. Samuels" — it is never Samuel — "you were absolutely 
marvelous. Last month we had a man who did card tricks. 
He was very good too." They expect to be remembered 
on the slenderest grounds. "Mr. Samuels, don't you recog- 
nize me? I was at your lecture in Knoxville twenty-five 
years ago." When I shake my head regretfully, they add: 
"It was a very rainy evening." 

For most lecturers the question and answer period is a 
sort of afterbirth, to be disposed of quickly and hygienically; 
for me it is the climax of the evening, and I make it as long 
as possible. It is during this period that I check on my in- 
tuitions, and it is during this period, too, that I learn some- 
thing of what is going on in the mind of American Jewry, 
or at least a certain sector of it. A thousand questions 
directed at me every year by audiences drawn from the most 
varied communities constitue a Gallup poll in reverse; and 
the changes in the type of question over a period of nearly 
fifty years build up a skeleton history of Jewish public 

I prefer the spoken to the written question; I like to see 



the questioner, it helps me to understand him, and I will 
take the risk that he will want to outline his autobiography. 
Sometimes the questioner flounders about; I have to guess 
at what is troubling him and find the words for it; it is 
pleasant to see his face light up when I succeed. I do not 
mind delivering five or six capsule lectures on top of the 
main lecture if the questions touch on important issues, the 
less so as they help me to bring up the good point I lost 
while chasing the new insight. 

Some of the questions are merely silly, some simple and 
factual, and a few unfathomable. After a lecture on the 
character of Bloom in Joyce's Ulysses I was asked: "Mr. 
Samuel, are you in favor of human nature?" and after a 
lecture on Sholom Aleichem, whether I was in favor of 
vivisection. Late in the night after the Sholom Aleichem 
lecture I recalled having used some phrase like "dissection 
of human beings," but I never established a connection for 
the first question. There need not have been any; my ques- 
tioner no doubt belonged to the small army of amiable 
cranks who haunt meetings in order to put in a word on 
vegetarianism, free love, Esperanto, faith healing, Bahaiism, 
moral rearmament. Yoga, spiritualism and kindness to ani- 
mals; they form part of the periphery. The pest questioner 
is in a tiny class by himself; he attends every lecture and al- 
ways has a question. He betrays himself the moment he 
opens his mouth by the pitch of his voice, which for some 
reason is half an octave or so higher than the average; the 
practiced lecturer can also identify him in advance by the 
dismay of the audience, which vents itself in a groan of 
resignation at the sight of him. 

The loquaciously hostile questioner who wants to debate 
the issue with you from beginning to end must be disposed 
of decisively the moment he stops to catch his breath. An 
anti-Zionist rabbi named Foster rose after one of my ad- 



dresses in Newark and began to deliver himself on the in- 
advisability, impossibility, and un- Americanism of creating 
a Jewish state in Palestine. At the first opportunity I slipped 
in the remark: "Sir, do not worry; the Jewish homeland 
will be built by the children of Israel, not the foster-chil- 
dren." After that the audience was deaf to him. In 1928, 
speaking on the Arab-Jewish problem, I found the same 
gentleman in my audience. I have referred, in telling of 
my last meeting with my old Rebbe, to the anti-Jewish riots 
which swept over Palestine in the fall of that year. The 
Haganah, or defense army, then clandestine, was in its prim- 
itive stage, and over a hundred and fifty men, women, and 
children were killed and thousands wounded before the 
British restored order. Even the anti-Zionist Jewish Com- 
munists of America, caught off guard, joined in the world- 
wide protests until they were ordered by Moscow to reverse 
their position, which they did with that bland and unembar- 
rassed celerity which is, or used to be, such an engaging 
feature of dedicated Communism. Rabbi Foster put his 
question briefly this time: "Mr. Samuel, what would you 
do if you were an Arab?" I counter-questioned: "Rabbi 
Foster, what would you do if you were a Jew?" 

Oddities remain imbedded in my memory, freak inci- 
dents, incongruities that are a joy forever, incredibilities 
that startle me afresh whenever I think of them — somewhat 
as if I had heard the train announcer at Grand Central say 
distinctly: "The Goddam five-twenty-five for Bridgeport 
is now ready on track nineteen." The first prize belongs to 
a 1933 meeting. At that time, world Jewry was divided on 
the issue of Jewish colonization in Russia. Most Zionists 
correctly saw in it nothing more than a device to divert 
Jewish funds to Russia; but some of them were taken in and 
one of them challenged me earnestly: "Mr. Samuel, don't 
you think it's better to give relief to Jews wherever they 



need it until we can build the homeland and all go and re- 
lieve ourselves there?" The atmosphere was so serious, the 
turn of phrase so unexpected, that the audience was par- 
alyzed. In a similar stoniness an audience once heard me 
commit a ghastly spoonerism in a metaphor which intended 
to refer to a piston pushing. In spite of the sudden chill at 
my heart, I had the presence of mind to hurry on without 
correcting myself, thus creating a doubt in the minds of my 
listeners. I do not know whether it was incredulity or cour- 
tesy which prevented the audience from bursting into a 
shout of laughter when I was introduced at a meeting in the 
Bronx, where I was then living, in the following terms: 
"We have with us tonight Mr. Maurice Samuel, who is well 
known throughout America and in the Bronx as well. As 
the chairman of this evening, I will not bore you for long, 
since we have brought Mr. Samuel here for that purpose." 
This story has become something of a legend, and has been 
attached to various speakers, but unless my chairman of that 
evening reinvented the gem — he was too kindly and un- 
sophisticated a man to have been quoting — I claim it as 
part of my saga. 

An introduction is not, or should not be, an idle and 
hasty formality; its function, difficult and responsible, is 
to pull the audience together and dispose it to listen. It 
should be neither too long nor too short, neither fulsome 
nor dry, neither facetious nor pompous. It must contain 
mention of the subject and some polite remarks on the 
lecturer's qualifications for dealing with it. A nervous 
chairman infects the audience, and precious minutes are 
lost before it regains its composure. If the chairman has 
been chosen as a reward for various services but happens 
to know nothing about the subject or the lecture, he should 
confine himself to reading the introduction furnished by 
the lecture bureau. Had this rule always been followed, 



one flustered lady would not have introduced me as Mr. 
Furtlewanger because the late Lion Feuchtwanger had 
addressed the organization the previous month, and an- 
other as Sholom Aleichem because I had written a book 
about him. 

The most difficult part of an evening comes when, being 
at leisure and glad to engage in conversation even after a 
two-hour stretch on the platform, I am buttonholed by the 
wrong people. Some have private grievances against the 
organization or the community leadership and want me 
to adjudicate in their favor; others want to tell me of a 
long and complicated personal experience which bears 
out or disapproves part of my thesis; and there are those 
who ask: "Mr. Samuel, do you really believe" something 
or other I said in the course of the lecture, as if they ex- 
pected me to confess that I had only been fooling. But 
some are troubled by serious questions which they were 
too shy to ask in public, and these are among my best 

The change in the character of my audiences, and in the 
matters which interest them, is, as I have hinted, a com- 
mentary on Jewish development in this country over the 
last half century. It is also an indicator of general changes. 
It goes without saying that the immigrant element has 
largely disappeared; those that come to hear me are eighty 
to ninety per cent American-born, more than half of them 
of American-born parents. One curious result has been 
the almost total disappearance of a perplexity that used 
to haunt my audiences thirty and forty and fifty years ago. 
It went under the name of "dual allegiance." Was it pos- 
sible to be a "good American" with half one's heart at- 
tached to the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine? The 
question is still put here and there, but it emanates from 
a small, identifiable, extremist assimilationist minority. 



The more American the Jews have become, the more 
natural does it seem to them to be, if not ideological 
Zionists, vigorous supporters o£ the State of Israel. It is 
not only that the timidity of the newcomers has dissolved 
in the tacit Americanism of their descendants; it is also 
that America herself has lost a good deal of her provincial- 
ism. The growing consciousness of the fateful world role 
which has devolved on her makes her sympathetic to the 
value of additional attachments, (I avoid the word "al- 
legiance" because it is part of a loaded formula.) "Amer- 
icanism" loses all contemporaneous meaning unless it is 
hyphenated with "One-Worldism," and One-Worldism 
finds encourasfement in emotional and cultural bonds 
with other peoples; there cannot, in my opinion, be too 
many of them, for America's good and the world's. Certainly 
these double or multiple affections (I myself feel strong 
ties to England and France) will create problems occasion- 
ally, but how can the great transition which is now man- 
kind's imperative be made without problems? 

The transition is to something far more significant than 
a state of guaranteed peace. Beyond the danger of human 
self-annihilation lies the danger, less spectacularly hor- 
rifying but hardly less horrible to contemplate, of the an- 
nihilation of the human self, the gradual disappearance of 
those human group differentiations in which a self is 
rooted. In the introduction to Teilhard de Chardin's The 
Phenomenon of Man, Julian Huxley speaks of the ten- 
dency, emerging from technological progress, "which 
might destroy the effects of cultural diversification and 
lead to a drab uniformity instead of to a rich and potent 
pattern of variety in unity." Before us looms the spectre 
of a planet inhabited by six or ten or fifteen billion no- 
bodies-in-particular (and why we should consider it an 
achievement to infect distant planets with such biological 
specimens is beyond me). 



The recoil in American Jewry from an earlier melting- 
pot theory of assimilation is in part a response to the threat 
of depersonalization. It is mixed with other factors; the ex- 
termination of six million Jews and the birth of the 
State of Israel have left deep psychological effects; and the 
general American movement toward religious affiliation, 
often — and more or less correctly — characterized as a 
purely social phenomenon, has set up a kind of machinery 
for Jewish self-recovery. But it is quite wrong to stop at 
these factors. The young Jewish physicists, chemists, mathe- 
maticians, engineers (I have met hundreds of them) who 
find they have to provide some Jewish instruction for their 
children, and join a temple or a synagogue for that reason, 
are often puzzled at themselves. "Look," they expostulate, 
as if anxious to disassociate themselves at once from their 
superstitious grandfathers, "look, I'm beyond that sort of 
thing, but I want my son at least to know who he is." I 
mention the scientists because it is presumably the scientific 
outlook which is most intelligently (or should I just say 
articulately) at odds with the notion of Jewish affiliation; 
also because among them one might expect a certain 
amount of clear thinking on the subject. I probe and find 
confusion. I ask: "Can't your son be a Presbyterian and 
know who he is?" They answer: "I don't believe in any 
religion, but if my son has to get a certain amount of 
religion to know who he is, at least let it be Jewish." I 
continue: "But why on earth do you want him to know 
that he is a Jew?" Sometimes they answer: "Better for 
him to find it out from me than from an anti-Semite"; 
sometimes: "A man shouldn't be ashamed of his origins"; 
and sometimes: "Well, if he isn't a Jew, what is he?" 

Now, this concern with the child's need for self-iden- 
tification is genuine, and the answers have meaning for the 
speaker, on one level or another; what the parents often do 
not perceive is that they, finding themselves the begetters 



of a new generation, are urgently in search of their own 
self-identification. The unformulated anxiety runs: "We've 
got children! What shall we tell them about ourselves? 
And, for that matter, who are we?" 

The spiritual confusion of the physicist, mathematician, 
etc., is not different from that of the doctor or lawyer in 
the same predicament, or, given a certain level of intel- 
ligence, of the plumber or pantsmaker. It begins with a 
misconception in the religious field. A member of an 
audience once said to me: "As a physicist I do not believe 
in the existence of God. I know that things take place 
in accordance with unchangeable laws. In years of ex- 
perimentation I have never come across an instance of 
interference with those laws by an outside power." I com- 
mented: "You seem to be under the impression that only 
a physicist, or a scientist generally, is aware of the inexor- 
ability and inviolability of the natural laws of cause and 
effect. But a pantsmaker, too, has the right to say: 'As a 
pantsmaker I do not believe in the existence of God. I 
know that in the making of a pair of pants there are in- 
exorable and inviolable laws of cause and effect, and in 
all the years of my pantsmaking I have not come across a 
single instance of interference with these laws by an out- 
side power. Never, never, in the making of thousands 
of pairs of pants have I seen a single pair come out right 
if the cutting was wrong.' His scientific experience hasn't 
the range and subtlety of yours, but it is as decisive." 

Belief in God does not by itself make a Jew, just as 
calling oneself an atheist does not make one an atheist 
(the intellectual discipline of atheism is extremely exact- 
ing). The Jew who thinks himself an atheist and, looking 
for self-identification, can find it only in the Jewish people, 
relies on the fact that Jewishness, unlike Christianity, re- 
gards peoplehood as an expression of religion. And people- 



hood does not mean nationality or nationalism; it means 
a group-cultural personality within which the individual 
comes to birth, and this in turn means being rooted in 
the culture. 

But by a certain age — say the late twenties or early 
thirties — much exertion is needed to send down new roots 
or to reactivate old ones that have withered. Usually some- 
thing is still there, and not only because of reminders from 
the outside, a personal experience, an overheard jibe, ex- 
clusion from certain areas of employment; something be- 
yond the fact that Jews habitually consort with Jews; 
something that nags quietly, or starts suddenly to life 
without apparent provocation, a regret, a sense of self-alien- 
ation and self-devaluation, an obscure perception of some 
kind of impiety. The something that is still there is also 
felt, often enough, as a confounded nuisance: "I didn't 
ask for it! I refuse to let myself be pestered by it. To hell 
with the past." Hence an ambivalence of attitude, a simul- 
taneous hankering and resentment, respect and derision. 
"The Jews, Jewishness — you can't just wave it away; the 
Jews, Jewishness, just a lot of antiquated rubbish." 

Thus, a popular Jewish woman novelist opens her auto- 
biography with: "All my life I have been inordinately 
proud of being a Jew," and some fifty pages farther on 
explains: "It has always been my contention that the Jew, 
left in peace for two hundred years throughout the world, 
would lose his aggressiveness, his tenacity, his neurotic 
ambition, would be completely absorbed and vanish, as 
a type, from the face of the earth." Now, surely the lady 
cannot be "proud" of these Jewish characteristics, and 
surely she must look forward to the day when a world 
purified of hatreds will permit this somewhat repellent 
type to disappear. But no, what she is proud of in her 
Jewishness is the noble sentiment she quotes from the 



Bible as the motto of her book: "Now, therefore, if ye 
will obey My voice, and keep My covenant, then ye shall 
be a peculiar treasure unto Me, above all peoples; for 
all the earth is Mine and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom 
of priests and a holy nation." On the other hand, it appears 
from her account that if the Jews have in some slight de- 
gree approximated to this lofty ideal, they owe less to 
God and the Prophets than to certain questionable histor- 
ical characters: "For centuries we have been kept from 
complete absorption or utter oblivion by such fanatics 
and megalomaniacs as a Pharaoh, Ivan of Russia, or Philip 
of France, or Edward the First, of England . . . Adolf Hitler 
has done more to solidify and spiritualize the Jews of the 
world than any man since Moses." 

Novels which depict Judaism or Jewishness as nothing 
more than a persistent historical trauma, and the Jewish 
people as the locale of a baffling non-filterable virus called 
anti-Semitism which has the curious faculty of keeping 
the host organism alive for centuries, are very popular 
with Jews engaged in the struggle for self-recovery; they 
find there relief for one side of their ambivalence. What- 
ever my subject at a lecture, I am sure to be asked for my 
opinion of such books while their brief and lucrative 
season is on; and since I consider it my duty to have an 
answer, I must, like the reader for the Catholic Index, 
regularly imperil my soul, or my sanity, for the benefit 
of my audiences. 

I also imperil my soul occasionally by the intemperate- 
ness of my comments; but what other kind of comment can 
one make on the following piece of advice, which another 
Jewish novelist puts into the mouth of one of his sym- 
pathetic Jewish characters: "What you're afraid of, George 
[a fellow-Jew] is the world of the Gentiles. Somewhere, 
God alone knows the location, you've picked up and be- 



lieve the same notions about Gentiles that so many Gentiles 
have about Jews. That they're creatures of another planet, 
with cloven hoofs and spiked tails and a passion for drink- 
ing human blood. [My italics]." The author does not know 
where on earth some Jews have picked up these monstrous 
beliefs about gentiles! It is for him no miracle that when 
the concentration camps opened they did not let out on 
the world a horde of lunatic survivors. It surprises him 
that even among those who have only learned something 
about the camps there should occur occasional delusions 
(!) of persecution. One must assume that this is his attitude, 
for a proper comment on the hideously coarse statement 
I have quoted occurs nowhere in the novel. There isn't a 
Jew or gentile in it with intelligence enough to make it. 
And how ingeniously he turns the tables — "that so many 
Gentiles have about the Jews. . ." Jewry and Christendom 
are even-stephen. Gentiles misunderstand Jews, Jews mis- 
understand gentiles; there is an unfortunate mutuality of 
self-perpetuating misunderstanding without a basic cause 
on either side. The crowning touch is "the passion for 
drinking human blood." The author might have spared 
us this oblique reference to the ritual blood libel, so often 
thrown by Christians at Jews but never by Jews at Chris- 
tians. He might, in order to fill out the picture with the 
honesty expected of a novelist, have had someone say: 
"Yes, I know, George, certain terrible things have haj> 
pened over the centuries, and recently, too; all the 
same . . ." No, instead he has another perceptive Jew ad- 
monish George: "Don't hide. Don't dig a hole for your- 
self . . . Do what your heart tells you, not your religion. 
It's more important to be a man than a Jew." It appears 
that, for the author, "Jew" and "man" are in some way 

The recurrent impulse to get rid, somehow, of this 



burden of Jewish identity, and the endless, banal discus- 
sion of it, are often characteristic of Jews who are funda- 
mentally attached to Jewishness. Perhaps it is only a 
particular form of the longing that all human beings oc- 
casionally experience to be someone else for a change. So 
I am frequently asked: "Can't we assimilate?" and I 
answer: "Some of us certainly can, and do, but you must 
not make a programmatic thing of it; that would be like 
screaming at people: 'Relax!' " 

Some years ago an "ex-Jew" wrote an article in The At- 
lantic Monthly, describing how, by the exercise of the 
proper tact, ingenuity, and determination, he had managed 
to "pass" completely. He wrote under a pseudonym, of 
course — otherwise he would have ruined his life's work — 
and offered himself as proof conclusive that "it can be 
done"; and Jews who complain that the gentile world 
won't let them assimilate are deceiving themselves; it is 
their own clannishness or self-assertiveness that stands in 
the way. No one, he reported, but no one except himself 
now knew him as an ex-Jew; and he advised Jews at large 
to follow his example. 

I was surprised by the number of Jews who read the 
article and wanted to know what I thought of it; there 
must have been quite a run on that issue. I pointed out to 
my questioners that in addition to the particular qualifica- 
tions which enabled the "ex-Jew" to carry out his far- 
sighted plan, he had to thank that vast majority of Jews 
who lacked both his qualifications and his ambition. It is 
obvious that if all the Jews of America were to make a 
concerted attempt to "disappear," the country would be 
set by the ears, and the more widespread the attempt, the 
fewer, in the final account, would be the instances of suc- 
cess. Let us imagine the courts of New York, Philadelphia, 
Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, and Los Angeles suddenly 



flooded with petitions for change of name — in most in- 
stances the first prerequisite; let us then imagine a miracu- 
lously rapid and uniform favorable disposal of all the 
cases; then let us imagine the disappearance of the serried 
columns of Cohens, Caplans, Levys, Horowitzes, Hurwitzes, 
Samuels, and Slomowitzes from the telephone books. What 
a hue and cry there would be, here and abroad! "Where 
are the Jews of America!" The political commentators 
would be in their element, propounding theories: at one 
extreme that the Jews had gone underground in accordance 
with the sinister plans outlined in The Protocols of the 
Elders of Zion; at the other that they had been massacred 
in a tremendous and marvelously organized St. Bartholo- 
mew's night which had not left behind so much as a single 
corpus delicti. (I ignore the various problems of relocation, 
transportation, and economic reintegration: one need only 
think of the chaos in the social security offices.) 

What I really held against the "ex-Jew" was not his 
imbecility but his ingratitude. He was like the millionaire 
who earnestly counsels the poor to emulate him and repeat 
his success, forgetting that a few people can be million- 
aires precisely because other people, much more numerous, 
cannot. Those who have the necessary combination of 
ability, craftiness, single-mindedness, imaginativeness, 
avariciousness, and love of power (not to mention luck) 
will become millionaires without his encouragement; 
others are merely disturbed from time to time by the re- 
flection: "He's right! I could have made it, too," when in 
fact they haven't a dog's chance, not only because of social 
handicaps, but because they just aren't built that way. 

"Ex-Jew" was built in a certain way, and because of it 
he was able to realize his ambition, though not quite as 
completely as he imagined. There was one person, very 
important to him, to wit, himself, who was in on the secret. 


and how he took it is not clear from his statement. He may 
have chuckled at the situation, thinking how he was did- 
dling his neighbors, the Jewish people, and history. He 
may have winced slightly when a good friend of his made 
an anti-Semitic remark — ^say, something on the order of: 
"A Jew can try to disguise himself as much as he likes, 
but I can tell one a mile away" by some unpleasant charac- 
teristic or other — and then laughed up his sleeve: "Poor 
devil! He doesn't suspect he's been having one in his home 
for years." It is possible that he entered a mild demurrer, 
just to test his feeling of security: "Oh, I don't know . . ." 
I have sometimes wondered whether some of his best 
friends were Jews; and I have wondered what became of 
him. There is the horrid possibility that he was exposed 
by a chance encounter, and perhaps even by himself — a 
slip of the tongue at a Christmas Eve party where he had 
taken a drop too much and was irresistibly impelled to 
hint at the relationship between him and Jesus, or, God 
knows, in a moment of unaccountable revulsion. But if he 
carried on successfully to the end, his children would be 
quite secure, assuming, as we must, that when they asked 
him about his parents or other relatives he made up some 
cock and bull story. Or he may have decided not to risk 
marriage and fatherhood. The fact is that there is no such 
thing as an assimilated Jew any more than there is a 
digested potato. There are only assimilating Jews, and 
they are never absolutely safe. One may be second-genera- 
tion baptized, and a United States senator to boot, and a 
granddaughter will take it into her head to join a kibbutz 
in Israel. 

Assimilationism as an organized movement, with na- 
tional headquarters, organs, slogans, chapters, and chair- 
men, is an absurdity from the practical as well as from the 
moral point of view. Pasternak, himself a convert to 



Christianity, urges something like it in Dr. Zhivago. Refer- 
ring to the sufferings of the Jewish people, he cries: "Of 
what use is it to anyone, this voluntary martyrdom? Whom 
does it profit? For what purpose are those innocent old men 
and women and children, all these subtle, kind, humane 
people, mocked and beaten up through the centuries? Why 
didn't the intellectual leaders of the Jewish people ever go 
beyond Weltschmerz and ironical wisdom? Why have they 
not disbanded this army which keeps on fighting and being 
massacred nobody knows for what? Why don't they say to 
them: 'Come to your senses, stop. Don't hold on to your 
identity. Be with all the rest. You are the first and best 
Christians in the world. You are the very thing against 
which you have been turned by the worst and weakest 
among you,' " 

These generous words about the Jewish people — I should 
like to think they are deserved: "the best Christians in the 
world!"; isn't it a bit overdone? — make nonsense of the 
proposal. Why should David Gordon, the Christianized 
Jew in the novel (he is one of the self-images of Pasternak), 
want the dissolution of so exalted an example? If Jewish- 
ness produces "the best Christians," oughtn't the world to 
turn Jewish? Which is perhaps what Jesus, the home-grown 
Jew, intended, and Paul, the Hellenized Jew, could not 

Assimilation takes place quietly, more or less simply, 
and is a natural thing. Sometimes I will be invited by a 
questioner to express disapproval of Jews who drift away, 
intermarry, and initiate the slow process by which Jewish 
identity dissolves. I am unable to comply. A Jew has the 
same right to intermarry as an American or an Englishman 
has to emigrate. All peoples regularly lose contingents of 
their sons and daughters; to hold them by force when they 
have the opportunity and the desire to leave is an abomi- 


nable act of tyranny, an infringement of the basic right of 
the human being to seek his happiness where he thinks 
he can find it. Or else I am invited to express alarm at the 
volume of Jewish assimilation. Again I cannot oblige; for 
such distress as I feel is occasioned, not by the diminution 
of our numbers, but by the insufficiency of Jewish content 
and Jewish values in that mass which will persist with a 
Jewish designation into all the foreseeable future. 

Jewish values! Again and again I am asked: "But what 
are those Jewish values you keep talking about?" and I 
must answer again and again that one doesn't explain them, 
one acquires them by a conscious effort; they are associated 
with a body of Jewish knowledge; and that body of Jewish 
knowledge is in turn associated with the Jewish view that 
without knowledge there is no Jewishness. This is the 
specific Jewish tradition of intellectuality, the dissipation 
of which is a loss to every country with a Jewish commu- 
nity. I think sometimes of the role that Jews ought to be 
playing in America as her intellectual pacesetters. We are 
still, I believe, in front, but only by the momentum of the 
past. Most of our young intellectuals are not with us; their 
children will be strangers to the tradition which carried 
their fathers. That is a pity, but the loss is not irreparable. 
The matrix is still here. 

If the anti-Jewishness bias of some writers does not 
trouble me too much, the pro-Jewishness of others does, 
I am referring to the sentimental books, novels or memoirs, 
which are filled with exhibitionistic and smilinsr affection 
for our recent ancestry. "Nothing," says Professor Herbert 
Muller, "is more undignified than a past become quaint," 
Such books achieve the same popularity as their opposites 
and do more harm because they purport to tell us some- 
thing about Jewishness. I had a boyhood friend in Man- 
chester, Louis Golding, who grew up to be that sort of 



writer. When we were youngsters we were very fond of 
each other, and his father, a Hebrew teacher and a sternly 
orthodox Jew, used to thrash him for frequenting the com- 
pany of a notorious apostate like me. In later years Louis 
and I developed a strong aversion toward each other's 
books, and we used to meet at intervals, in London and 
New York, to express it; if the intervals were too long, 
we wrote each other abusive letters about each other's 
latest productions. He died recently and I miss him, be- 
cause I never really lost my fondness for him. Besides, my 
personal acquaintance with other writers of his type, where 
it exists at all (I don't move in literary circles), is too 
slender to provide me with this outlet. But the type will 
fade away as immigrant memories recede. 

Though I am sure that my lectures do no harm, I cannot 
be sure that they do any good. The measure would lie in 
the number of people who have been prompted by them 
to take up Jewish studies. That number is steadily in- 
creasing, but who knows if I have had anything to do with 
it? Lectures about the value of Jewish culture can indeed 
be samples of Jewish culture, and that is what I try to make 
them; but if the listener is content to nod approval and 
leave it at that, he is like the man who goes to church or 
synagogue as an expression of his faith in the value of 
faith, which is a fair description of much of our con- 
temporaneous religious revival — and nothing new, at 
that. Gissing said of the Victorian Englishman: "His reli- 
gion, strictly defined, is an ineradicable belief in his own 
religiousness" [his italics]. I place in the same category the 
Jew who "believes" in Jewishness, his own Jewishness, and 
makes no effort to give it substance. From time to time I 
am asked wistfully why the Bible can't be made as at- 
tractive as Bible movies, and why an immortal work like 
the Talmud can't be reduced to twenty-five simple lessons. 



I have to drive home the point that these inane longings, 
or rather velleities, are hostile to the very material, as it 
were, of Jewishness, its specifically moral-intellectual dis- 
cipline and substance. 

In that substance the spirit expresses itself, having no 
other means of expression for us. The One God of whom 
I get glimpses speaks to me, as a Jew, in that substance, 
making it the starting point and medium of my perception 
of the world, my mode of entrance into it and my identifica- 
tion with it. Exactly when that substance, in its earliest 
form, became the heritage of the group which evolved into 
the Jewish people, is to me a mystery. I cannot accept as 
literal the account of Genesis. I suggest that instead of God 
having spoken to Abraham (or Aram), He put into the 
heart and mind of the primitive group, no doubt through 
a prophetlike figure, the myth of His having spoken to 
Abraham. What He is thus purported to have said to 
Abraham concerning the destiny of the group, namely, 
that in it the families of the earth should be blessed (what 
a mad notion!), the group accepted as the raison d'etre for 
its existence. When did this happen? That, I have said, is a 
mystery to me, and I cannot think it will ever be resolved. 
But the notion stuck. It was and is periodically repudiated 
and reasserted, disregarded and renewed in ascend- 
ing perception. The records are superficially confused, the 
thematic consistency and continued clarification perfectly 
clear. The renewal of Jewishness can take place only in 
these terms, and if the re-creation of the State of Israel is 
conceived in other terms, that is (as certain ultra-Orthodox 
Jews assert, without, alas, being themselves an acceptable 
example) one of the periodic repudiations. Either Israel 
ultimately helps the Jewish people to be a world-serving 
community or it is, however successful in other respects, 
Jewishly speaking a failure. 



These are the very high ideas I try to infuse into some 
of my lectures. They are seemingly so out of kilter with 
the ordinary tenor of our lives that one is tempted to laugh, 
to dismiss them as so much hot air. But either there is God 
and purpose, and then this ordinary tenor, with all its 
failures, absurdities, and shenanigans, indicates a meaning- 
ful direction, or else there is neither God nor purpose, and 
then, as I asked in my youthful years, what difference does 
it make if we inflate ourselves with empty delusions? 


® 310 ® 


i i 

t t 

z . . i 

t Epilogue of High Moments 



.HIS IS where I intended to close the book. As a re- 
cord it has many lacunae, even in the limited areas I have 
chosen. To any reader who is dissatisfied on this score I 
offer one of Zangwill's prefaces: "I must apologise to the 
critics for this book not being some other book, but it 
will not happen again, as my next book will be." 

I must write this epilogue while there is still time, for 
of late my memory has developed an interesting four-stage 
trick no doubt familiar to others but new to me. In the 
morning I suddenly will think of someone who was quite 
close to me many years ago. The face, the posture, the 
voice, the opinions, and other peculiarities will be as fresh 
as if I had just left him; I know him as well as I know 
myself, but for the moment I can't think of his name. But 
precisely in that moment the image fades out and with it 
the identity. I no longer know who the person was whose 
name I was trying to recall. Then, after an interval of 
some hours, I find myself saying, in the midst of quite 
another train of thought: "What was it that I recalled 
with such exasperating near-completeness this morning? 
Was it a person? A book? A scene? A smell? A tune?" 
This question, too, fades out. Then suddenly, at some 


point in the evening, I am haunted by the recollection of 
a frustration. What was it that bothered me earlier in the 
day? Did I have an unpleasant encounter? Did I get a bad 
piece of news? Did I remember and forget again a neglected 
duty? A fragment of myself has slipped away from me. Is 
it gone forever or will it come back? 

As a rule it comes back. That same night, or perhaps the 
next day, or the day after, and in rare cases a week or so 
later, a reverse process sets in, beginning with the last and 
unidentified frustration; and once it begins, it is very 
rapid, almost instantaneous. "Good heavens! It had to do 
with a memory! It did not occur to me there and then ex- 
cept as a memory. A person, a voice, a posture — all un- 
mistakable — there they are! It is he!" The momentum 
carries me past the dead point and I triumphantly call 
out the name, to the surprise of anyone in whose company 
I happen to be. 

Incidents, too, and whole chains of incidents out of my 
far-off past can thus play hide and seek with me. A place 
swims up in my mind; it is important because of what 
happened to me there. What place? I was looking at it a 
moment ago, and I cannot conjure it back by a direct 
effort. I must wait until something sets off the reverse proc- 
ess, and that something is invariably hidden from me. If 
it is an external object, like Proust's little cake dipped in 
tea, or the wobbly flagstone under his foot, I am unaware 
of it. It seems that, without prompting from me, the un- 
reachable part of my mind has all the time been diligently 
at work, exploring the labyrinths, running up blind alleys, 
returning, scurrying this way and that, until it has found 
the episode in its niche, all of the episode, in all of its 
detail, beautifully immediate and alive. 

This little inner drama of death and resurrection, silent 
and fragmented, will often use as its prologue a person 


I have known only fleetingly, someone who has etched him- 
self into my memory in connection with a large experience 
of which he has become one of the symbols. Such, I have 
indicated, are certain men and women I met in Vilna; 
such, also, was a young Englishman I happened to recall 
a few days ago, remembering only for the moment that he 
could have been one of the attractive characters in The 
Forsyte Saga. He was blond, tall, clean-looking; he spoke 
in the clipped, allusive, diffident way proper to such 
characters in Galsworthy. He was Tom Merry grown up 
and carrying his share of the White Man's Burden. Where 
had I seen him? Why was he lodged in my mind? To what 
important experience was he the clue? 

He slipped from my consciousness via the familiar stages 
and was flashed back the next day in the familiar pattern 
of recapture. A morning in August 1937, The Llangibby 
Castle at anchor off St. Helena, the young Englishman 
standing at my side watching with me the boatloads of pas- 
sengers being rowed ashore, a brief conversation — the only 
one I had with him during the seventeen-day voyage. He 
was a colonial administrator in Kenya, homeward bound 
on leave. I sat back to back with him at meals; I had heard 
him talk about his home, his people, tennis, hunting, al- 
ways using odds and ends of sentences, a glancing kind of 
talk which might or might not conceal an articulate person- 

He addressed me suddenly: "Shall you be going ashore?" 

"I don't think so," I answered. I did not care to see 
where Napoleon had died; I was working on a book; be- 
sides, the day was hot and close. 

After a pause he murmured: "That man in Germany is 
going to be the Napoleon of the twentieth century." 

I was startled. It sounded like an invitation to an ex- 
change of views; and perhaps it was only a friendly ad- 
monishment not to miss a unique opportunity. 



I said, cautiously: "You mean he's going to make a mess 
of it, like Napoleon?" 

"I rather fancy he won't," he answered. 

I read admiration and approval into his voice, and was 
depressed. I wished that he had at least said: "I'm afraid 
he won't." He added: "He won't make Napoleon's mis- 

"Such as?" 

"Fighting England, for one thing, I suppose." 

"He'll make other mistakes," I suggested. 

"Oh, I dare say." 

"He's pretty hard on the Jews," I said. 

"Yes, so one hears. But they do have to be put in their 
place, you know." 

He was detached, thoughtful, unmalicious, even kindly. 
My depression became sickeningly acute. That is always 
my reaction when I run up against anti-Semitism in some- 
one who in all other respects seems to be decent and con- 
siderate. It is there that the coarse anti-Semite, the ob- 
viously low, brutal, or deranged type — who disturbs me 
much less — finds his leverage. I dropped the conversation, 
and I may have betrayed my feelings, for he did not ad- 
dress me again during the remainder of the voyage. 

I watched him descend the gangplank, and I changed 
my mind about visiting the island. The day was spoiled 
for me, I would do no work. I took one of the last boats, 
and there was an impulse in me to catch up with the young 
Englishman and reopen the discussion. But the moment 
I set foot on the shore I realized the absurdity of it. 

St. Helena is — or was then — a pitiful and beggarly 
place. From a distance it looks desolate, without a touch of 
the imposing, and a closer view is even more dismal. The 
inhabitants are for the most part paupers; the colored and 
the black, descendants of slaves, seem to be little worse off 
than the whites. The houses, which are strung along the 


narrow cleft of the rock and make up the one narrow street 
which is all of Jamestown, are primitive, brick, or stone, 
or yellowish clay. As we walked slowly inland, ragged 
children left their games of bobbers and kibs to beg for 
pennies. Adults peddled cheap lace handkerchiefs, Wool- 
worth necklaces, and postal cards. On the right I saw a 
shingle: Samuel, Saddler. On the left there was a gully be- 
tween the street and the mountainside; it was filled with 
half-cobbled courts surrounded by wretched huts, the kind 
I had seen in the Kaffir slums of Johannesburg. 

On this island Napoleon passed the last six years of his 
life, the years of his prime; not in Jamestown, but farther 
up, at Longwood, the showplace of St. Helena. I let the 
group I had landed with drift away from me. Something 
was stirring in me, I wanted to think and make notes. 
Afterwards I took a carriage and arrived at "the house" 
when the others had left. It was less oppressive there than 
in Jamestown, but the heat still clung close, unrelieved 
by a breath from the dark, sullen, heaving Atlantic. Here, 
then, Napoleon ate his heart out while the climate ate at 
his liver; here he brooded, quarreled with the mean-spirited 
governor, played at being Emperor still, and brooded over 
his "mistakes." He paced the living room of the one-story 
building set aside for him, and took back his moves, like 
my friend Shmarya Levin at chess, but unlike Levin only 
in his mind, and too late. If he had not made such and such 
a move — that was the theme of his everlasting plaint — he 
would have won the game, he would not be here, on a vol- 
canic pustule in the middle of the Atlantic. He should not 
have crossed the Memel so early; he should not have spared 
the Hohenzollern dynasty; at Waterloo he should have 
sent the Guard forward earlier; he should not have en- 
trusted himself to the English; he should have gone to 
America, . , "What terrible mistakes I have made." 



I had been reading a life of Napoleon on the voyage, 
and these were some of the notes I had made, thinking how 
strange it was that a man of this caliber should identify 
the forces of history with his hit or miss decisions on the 
field of battle. Less strange, great men being what they are, 
were his delusions of a world-revolutionizing moral mis- 
sion. "My aim was the social regeneration of Europe . . . 
I was never the aggressor! Striving for dominion? I wanted 
to found a European system, a European code of laws, a 
European court of appeal; there would have been only one 
people throughout Europe ... I was obliged to daunt 
Europe by force of arms ... I am dying before my time, 
murdered by the English oligarchy." 

Only now and again he permits himself a doubt. "In 
the present day, the way to convince Europe is reason." He 
does not follow up with the inevitable conclusion that his 
greatest mistake, the supreme and irreparable mistake, lay 
in his being a Napoleon. 

These reflections floated on the surface of my mind. 
Under them, breaking through occasionally, was my young 
Englishman. What was it that attracted him to a figure like 
Hitler? How did evil men, demonic hungerers for power, 
establish their hold over "decent" people? Is it because 
"decent" people aren't really decent, because they too, the 
"simple, innocent ones" too, hunger for power and satisfy 
their hunger vicariously, by worship of the power-bearer 
and self- association with him? 

On the way back from Longwood I left the carriage a 
half mile or so from the wharf and sat down on a stone 
opposite the house of Samuel, Saddler. I was in a tremen- 
dous state of excitement. The book I was working on had 
become unimportant; I wanted suddenly, overwhelmingly, 
to write about power and its relation to simple people, 
some kind of novel, in which the problem would unfold 


through personalities. But not a novel of contemporaneous 
life; a historical novel rather, a parable, illuminating our 
present perplexities while avoiding direct collision with 
the political passions and prejudices of our day. 

I had not the faintest notion where to begin, what set- 
ting and what personality to fasten on, and all the way to 
Southampton I tried to shake myself free of the obsession. 
It was perfectly senseless. This was not my line of work; it 
called for qualities of the imagination in which I was 
lacking; and it would mean years of research. 

Here again I must pause over the interplay between the 
purposive and the accidental in my life. The day after we 
docked I picked up in London, at Foyle's, Villari's four- 
volume life of Machiavelli, and I had not read ten pages 
before I realized that here was my perfect setting — Renais- 
sance Italy; here was my perfect theoretician of Fascism, 
Machiavelli; and here was my perfect villain, Cesare Borgia, 
whom Machiavelli admired so extravagantly. They were 
made as if to order. And I ask myself: if the young English- 
man on the boat hadn't addressed me, or, addressing me, 
hadn't said what he said, would I have gone ashore at St. 
Helena? Probably not. Would the obsession to write a 
novel on the power theme have taken hold of me anyhow? 
Perhaps. If I hadn't chanced on Villari's Machiavelli when 
I did, would I have chosen Cesare Borgia as my symbol of 
evil, and invented Giacomo Orso, child of the Romagna — 
Mussolini's birthplace and the scene of Cesare Borgia's 
first triumphs — as my symbol of the decent young man? 
Most probably not. Nor would I have devoted ten years 
to the study of the Italian Renaissance in order to write 
Web of Lucifer, of which one critic observed: "His know- 
ledge of the times seems prodigious." Honesty compels me 
to say that my knowledge of the times was in fact con- 
siderable and I must add that the accumulation of the 



knowledge meant far more to me than the writing of the 

I have done much traveling in connection with my pro- 
fession, and I have noticed that practically all the informa- 
tion I have picked up in my travels I could have obtained 
from books. When I am introduced at a lecture as an 
authority on Israel because I have spent so much time in 
the country, I call to mind a conversation I once had in a 
place called Edgecomb, a suburb of Durban, on the Indian 
Ocean. I was taken to visit an invalid who because of some 
dangerous allergy had been confined to his room for 
twenty years. He was a dedicated Zionist. He had never 
seen Palestine and could never hope to see it. He contrib- 
uted to the Zionist funds and subscribed to all the Pales- 
tinian dailies, weeklies, monthlies. He read, as fast as he 
could get them, all the books, in English, Hebrew, and 
Yiddish, that were in any way connected with Palestine; 
and he carried on a copious correspondence with a number 
of people in the country. I cannot tell whether he sent for 
me — as he did for every visiting Zionist lecturer — because 
he hoped to learn something from me or because he 
wanted to show off his knowledge, which was in fact "pro- 
digious" — certainly far deeper than mine. He was at home 
in the geography of the country, and talked of its cities 
and villages as one who had moved among them all his 
life, had watched their development at first hand since 
their beginnings. He knew in detail the condition of every 
colony, whether commune, co-operative, or free enterprise, 
and followed passionately all the controversies that agitated 
the community. He was an expert on the politics and 
finances of Palestine. He asked me many questions, and 
corrected or supplemented whatever answers I gave him. 
One question in particular staggered me. "Can you tell 
me the inside story why Golden and Feitlovitch stopped 


advertising in Davar though they continue to advertise in 
Ha-Aretz?" All I knew was the name of the firm of linen 
drapers, and its location on the Nachlat Benyamin Street 
in Tel Aviv. 

Travel has meant for me, chiefly, stimulation and mem- 
ory aid. What I read about a place I no doubt remember 
more easily for having been there, but if I were to spend 
on travelers' accounts the time and energy consumed by 
my traveling I would be better off. Macaulay tells us that 
Edmund Burke, preparing his case against Warren Has- 
tings, read up so assiduously on India, which he had never 
visited, that he became the leading authority on it, far 
better informed than officials who had spent many years 
there. In our own day, Robert Graves produced his superb 
novels on Claudius without ever having set eyes on Rome; 
and Marchette Chute produced her classic account of 
Shakespeare and Shakespeare's London exclusively from 
materials in the New York Public Library. 

The stimuli I have received from my travels have been 
those of a particular scene or episode during a particular 
moment of sensitivity; and the scene need not have been 
new to me. The account I give of the birth of my novel 
The Second Crucifixion in the opening chapter is in sub- 
stance not fictional. I had often been in Rome, I had often 
lingered among the ruins of the Forum. But on the occa- 
sion I describe, something unpredictable and — for me — 
momentous did in fact happen. That something I have 
fictionalized as a woman's voice speaking to me across 
eighteen centuries. It was less, and more, than that. It was 
the onset of a compulsion to write a novel about Hadrianic 
Rome, about the Judaism and Christianity of that time, 
and about the manner in which anti-Semitism crystallized 
and fastened itself into the body of Christendom, to en- 
dure until our own time. I fought against the compulsion 



just as, exactly ten years earlier, I had fought against the 
compulsion to write Web of Lucifer, and as on the previ- 
ous occasion, I argued and fumed in vain. I had to write 
that book, and I wrote it as I had written Web of Lucifer, 
more or less mutinously. But I enjoyed thoroughly the ten 
years of research that went into it. I could have continued 
reading up on early Christian-Jewish relations for many 
years; so also with the Renaissance when I had finished 
Web of Lucifer. It was not a flagging interest that made me 
stop in both cases — I still leaf through the books with 
enjoyment — it was rather the fear that if I went on for 
much longer I would turn into a scholar, and then what 
would become of me? For the same reason I will go no 
further with my scientific studies, but content myself with 
keeping fresh in my mind the little I have acquired. 

Thus far, not all my far-off experiences are subject to 
the recent caprices of my memory. I have a standby treas- 
ury, collected in the course of my travels, which is still 
immediately accessible, and on sleepless nights I choose 
at will what I want to relive. 

I am flying southward along the Nile. There is a sliver 
of moon above the horizon as we leave Heliopolis, but it 
fails to illumine the ground, and the river is hidden from 
us as we move toward the Lybian desert. A hint of light is 
born in the east toward the Red Sea, it takes on color, it 
becomes an aureole shading softly into the vast, starry blue- 
blackness. It changes, it passes through pink and dull red 
into crimson and radiant rose. The depths pulsate, waves 
of counter-color come back from the zenith, subtle green 
and heliotrope and violet. The patches along the Nile 
become visible under us, rectangular little fields which 
might be the levels of an English countryside. The lamps 
of the villages glimmer here and there. The Nile curves 
away and we are above the empty desert. The light in the 



east gains, loses color. In the cool, lucid dawn the river 
comes back to us and we descend at Assyut. To one side 
o£ the field an Arab, kneeling on his mat, bows himself to 
the East three times. Someone nudges me and says: "Isn't 
that dumb?" 

When we rise again, the fullness of day is upon us, and 
from a height of ten thousand feet I look down again upon 
the Nile. From that height it is a thin, rippleless, acci- 
dental, shallow spill drawn across the illimitable, arid 
waste, a green-bordered thread making an irregular diam- 
eter across an immense, circular vacancy. I feel, I under- 
stand, I am drawn into the immemorial struggle of life 
with the fierce wilderness. The strip of growth which 
persists along the banks never strays into the desert; the 
two never fraternize or intermingle; they hold each other 
at bay, neither of them giving or gaining an inch. 

Seen thus, the Nile is a frail, provisional powerless 
thing. The desert on either side need only shrug its flank, 
send out a puff, unfold a lap, and the ribbon would shrivel 
and vanish. The persistence of the river has something 
awful about it; it is the persistence of life itself, an inex- 
plicable obstinacy fed from an invisible and mysterious 
source. Now I understand why they had to worship the 
Nile, not simply because it was the fructifier and bread- 
giver, but because it was the affirmation of life in the midst 
of surrounding death, the cry of defiance in the face of the 
hot, engulfing desert. 

Except for this incredible thing, the Nile, the desert 
under us seems omnipotent. Its intractable sands are rein- 
forced by ridged, stony heights. When the sun is near the 
horizon, the desert is scarped, cracked, ravined, with every 
variety of design, every kind of hilltop, sides that slope, 
sides that are sudden and precipitous, sides that retreat 
into caverns. All is dappled with sharp light and shadow, 



like the concave edge of the moon seen through a tele- 
scope. As the sun rises the shadows shrink, they become 
flakes, they withdraw into the foot of the hills and disap- 
pear. Then the desert receives the full blast of the sun 
and bakes, and bakes, and bakes, and the heart becomes 
faint at the sight and thought of it. 

They say that hereabouts rain never falls. Never! These 
regions belong to a dead planet: below us, no birds, no 
animals, no insects. There is not, I feel, even a microbe 
in the air. There is only yellow, blistering sand turning 
to bronze at the horizon; there is convulsive black rock, 
and heat, relentless, intolerable heat. As long as we are 
aloft I only see it, but as the downward glide begins, the 
feel of it closes in on me, the capsule turns into an oven, 
the arms of my seat are hot to the touch; and when I step 
out of the plane I am caught in a double blast between 
the burning earth and the fiery sun. 

The heat is dry as far as Atbara in the Sudan; below 
Khartoum it is a steaming, nauseous heat. In the north 
the narrow runlet of the Nile asserts itself against the with- 
ering hostility of the desert; in the south it is lost to view 
in the Soud, which is neither land nor water but a primal 
ooze. Here and there we see islands; they are mostly tangles 
of vegetation, roots and scum without foundation, a replica 
of the carboniferous era. Where the soil is firm, it is cov- 
ered by an uncontrollable jungle, a richness of life in the 
primitive which leaves no room for anything else; man is 
almost choked out by the wanton generosity of nature. The 
insects, birds, reptiles, like the insane vegetation, riot 
unrestrained. In the north a little shifting of the desert 
would dry out all the works of man; here an extra spurt 
of biologic prodigality would engulf and dissolve them. I 
think of ancient civilizations in the Sahara, in South 
America, in Asia, which have been wiped out by too little 



or too much, by nature's bitter parsimony or her ferocious, 
suffocating extravagance. The panorama of man's long 
contest with her unrolls before me, the supreme drama 
of our planet, the story of stories. Where and how did it 
begin? At what point in place and time did this animal 
get the start toward the mastery of the blindly indifferent 
environment which had given it birth? The shambling 
biped with opposable finger and thumb which is our image 
of the first hominid emerges far down the road of evolu- 
tion. Remote ancestors of his had already learned the 
crucial trick of passing on to their progeny, by means o£ 
special sounds and gestures, something more than instincts 
developed through random mutations played on by natural 
selection; they had already overcome life's built-in handi- 
cap of the sequestered genes, circumventing the intrans- 
missibility of acquired characteristics by transmitting 
acquired knowledge. Man had arrived, the halfway crea- 
ture, doing what had never been done before — a species 
planning its future. Nature, groping undirected for a 
billion years, had begotten the directed; the accidental had 
monkeyed around until it had produced the purposive 1 

But was it so? Could intelligenceless atoms jigging about 
for a billion billion years have hit upon a self-conserving, 
self-developing intelligence? Here was the riddle of rid- 
dles, the ultimate riddle, by comparison with which all 
other themes are trivialities. 

Below the Sudan the heat becomes dry and scarifying 
again. When I step out of the plane at M'beya, it is as if I 
had been shoved into Nebuchadnezzar's furnace. A scat- 
tered circle of all but naked Negroes, to whom the plane 
is still a novelty and a portent, is drawn about the field. I 
feel I am moving in a Wellsian fantasy. Everything is 
intensely unreal, surrealistic, and as I walk in a daze across 
the field it seems to me that I am hearing my name called 
in thin, selenite voices with a Yiddish accent. "Mr. Semuell 



Mr. Semuel!" I seem to see two figures running toward 

I stop dead; this is pure hallucination. 

The twinkling figures draw nearer; two smiling, eager 
faces, hands thrust out at me, voices in a mixture of Eng- 
lish and Yiddish. "Mr. Semuel! Mr. Semuel! Welcome! 
God be thanked for your arrival." 

It is not hallucination. The men are flesh and blood, 
their voices are human, and as I walk with them toward 
the airport hut, they continue to chant: "Excuse us! We 
recognized you from the picture. We couldn't wait. We 
can't tell you what this means to us." 

In the hut I slowly get my bearings. The dazzle of the 
sun and the vertiginous panorama of the ages die away; I 
am in the here and now. A welcoming committee in this 
most improbable of places. But how? There isn't supposed 
to be a Jewish community within a thousand miles. 

"You don't know us, Mr. Semuel, but we know you. I 
am Chaim Leffert and this is my brother Jacob Leffert. 
We read in the Zionist Record of South Africa that you 
are going to lecture down there and were coming by plane, 
and the plane goes from Cairo to Capetown every three 
days, so we reckoned, according to the date of your first 
lecture, that you'd be on the plane of three days ago or 
on this plane. So we were here three days ago, and no sign 
of you. But you are here today. And why were we here 
three days ago, and why are we here today? Because one 
perishes here for a Jewish word — and you come to us 
straight from the land of Israel." 

The porter carries my bag to the rondavel assigned to 
me. The Leffert brothers accompany us, two lean, sun- 
burned men of about my age, bearded, in shorts and open 
shirts and soiled topees. We sit over cold drinks and the 
story unfolds. 

They come from Vilna, which they left in 1914 for 


Central Africa, dreaming of gold and ivory and quick 
fortunes — and then Palestine, where they would buy them- 
selves large orange groves. They found neither gold nor 
ivory, and in the meantime the war cut them off from 
their home. They went to South Africa and tried "smous- 
ing" — peddling — in the villages of the Rand. Others had 
reached wealth from such beginnings, but it took too long. 
The war ended and, poor and hopeful as ever, they went 
north again, lured by the rumor of quicker returns from 
sesame and coffee. The years went by and they still had not 
made enough for as much as ten dunams of orange land. 
Some of their relatives at home had died; others had 
migrated; no one was left to write to, and here they were, 
in the African wilds, and it was 1933, and what fools they 
had been! They should have gone to Palestine, barefoot 
and penniless, and pioneered there instead of squandering 
their youth in the wilderness, with never a Jewish word 
to delight the ear or freshen the heart. 

All this came out in the midst of a hundred questions. 
Was the new Jewish homeland growing as marvelously as 
the papers said? Had I really seen Jerusalem and Tel Aviv 
and Haifa and the Jordan? they asked, and they laughed 
as they asked; it was only a manner of speech, they ex- 
plained, for of course I had seen those fabulous places, I 
had just come from there. I wouldn't by chance have met 
so-and-so, a Vilna boy who went out to Palestine in 1913? 
Or so-and-so, from Grodno, a cousin of theirs? No? "Write 
down their names. You're going back to the Yishuv. You 
might come across them." 

When they heard that I had been in Vilna they started 
from their seats and the tears came to their eyes. What? I 
had seen the Gaon's klaus, and the Ostrobramow, and the 
Bristol Hotel, and the Synagogue Yard? Did I know the 
Ramaille Street? Yes, I remembered that too. But they 



were born on the Ramaille Street, and I, a total stranger, 
had actually seen it! 

It was as if, in their isolation, they had begun to suspect 
that their boyhood had been a dream which they had 
dreamed in common. 

We talked through the afternoon, we told each other 
stores of Chassidim and Misnagdim and of famous Lith- 
uanian Jews. I recited for them verses from Bialik and 
Abraham Reisin, and we sang together Peretz's The Three 
Seamstresses and Goldfaden's In a Corner of the Temple. 
When they left they embraced me as if I had been a 
brother. "You don't know," they said, "what a mitzvah 
you have performed." 

That night I thought no more about the aeons and the 
marvels of evolution. I thought of the Leffert brothers 
(will chance bring this page to their living eyes?), and it 
seemed to me that if there is a Hand that writes, and keeps 
an accounting of our good and bad deeds, my most valu- 
able entries on the credit side of the ledger will be the 
moments of comfort which my travels have enabled me to 
bring to lost and homesick Jews "hungering for a Jewish 

I will tell of one more mitzvah of this kind, one that is 
forever associated in my memory with the onset of a "high 
moment." It goes back nearly forty years, to the time of my 
service with the Zionist Organization of America. A Yid- 
dish letter in an old man's hand came one day to the head 
office in New York from Tucson, Arizona. He had read in 
the newspaper, the writer said, that a certain Mr. Samuel, 
having recently returned from a visit to Palestine, was 
being sent to address meetings in Los Angeles. There were 
then thirty thousand Jews in Los Angeles (they number 
nearly half a million today), in Tucson there was only a 
handful of Jews, most of them elderly people who had 


settled there for their health. "It is true," said the letter, 
"that we are fewer than the few who went down with 
Jacob our Father into Egypt, and we can do little toward 
the Redemption; therefore your speakers always pass us 
by, coming and going between Los Angeles and New York, 
and we are left like a lodge in a cucumber field. But our 
souls are Jewish, and surely," the letter went on, with 
many apt Biblical quotations, "surely for once your 
speaker can set out a day earlier or return a day later and 
bring to this Remnant of the Escape a living Jewish word 
from the land of our fathers." Thus it came to pass that 
as a summer night was drawing to its close I stepped off the 
train at Tucson, where a committee was waiting for me; 
and what with the dim moonlight, and the palm trees, and 
the exotic softness of the air, and my lightheadedness due 
to lack of sleep, I was suddenly double. One me carried on 
according to program, a propagandist of the Zionist Or- 
ganization on an unprofitable but ungrudged assignment 
to a tiny out-of-the-way community; the other me was 
elsewhere in time and space. Twenty-six centuries closed 
up, and the globe of the earth had spun through a third 
of a circle. I saw myself as an emissary of the Prophets 
among exiles on the banks of the Khebar or the Nile. The 
Destruction had taken place only yesterday; a few years 
would pass and God would give the signal for the Return. 
"Patience, fellow-Jews! God is slow to anger, but quick to 

These visitations, these "high moments," stand outside 
the ordinary excitements I often find in my work. They are 
special seizures and intoxications and trances, unearned 
bonuses handed out to me irregularly and unexpectedly, 
reassurances that I can still get out of life more than I 
consciously put into it, reminders, too, of the generosity of 
a world I never made. 


A Note on the Type 

This book was set on the Linotype in "Baskerville," 
a facsimile of the type designed by John Baskerville, 
Birmingham, England, in 1754. The original Basker- 
ville type was one of the forerunners of the 
"modem" style of type faces. The Linotype copy 
was cut under the supervision of George W. Jones of 

Composed, printed, and hound by 

The Haddon Craftsmen, Inc., Scranton, Pa. 

Typography based on originals by 


A Note About the Author 

MAURICE SAMUEL was born in Rumania in 1895 
and was educated in England. In 1914 he mi- 
grated to the United States, and since 1921 he 
has traveled extensively in this country and 
abroad, partly as lecturer and partly to acquire 
information. His major interest for nearly fifty 
years has been the position of the Jev^ish people 
in the Western world; of his twenty books, 
fifteen are concerned with the exposition of 
Jewish values or the relations between the 
Jewish and Christian worlds. 

August 196) 







- -' 

Little did I know; recollections an main 


3 lEb2 DEISI bS7T